contractors

Help for Homeowners Who Lose Money to Rogue Contractors Could Be Harder to Get

If you lost money to a rogue contractor there are programs to help you recoup some of what you lost, but a new law could impact who gets this money.

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Homeowner Betty Chenet says after handing over thousands of dollars to a contractor, she was left with an eyesore in her backyard.

“No other companies want to take this job, nobody wants to do it,” Chenet said.

She says she contracted with Villa Pavers and Pools in 2019 to build a pool in her backyard. She is one of the nearly 100 homeowners who gave money to this company, according to state investigators.

The company’s owner Ricardo Villarroel and others are accused of operating a $1 million statewide pool fraud scheme.

Villarroel was arrested after our NBC Responds and Telemundo Responde investigation aired last year.

Despite the arrests, Chenet is still $28,000 in the hole and the pool is a sitting eyesore in her backyard.

“It can’t stay like this forever, the city is going to start giving me problems, I want my money back,” Chenet said.

There is money set aside by the state and county governments to help homeowners recoup at least some of the money they lost. It’s known as a restitution fund.

Last year, the state paid out $1,538,947 to homeowners and Broward County paid out $39,577.

But each fund has its own qualifications.

Delroy Aiken with Broward County’s Code Enforcement fears new legislation will impact who qualifies for this help.

“I feel like the consumer will be the one who will be left holding the bag,” Aiken said.

The state issues licenses to contractors for things like rooking, building, and working as general contractors. Counties often will issue their own licenses for smaller projects like painting, flooring, fencing, or driveway installation.

Starting next year, House 735 will no longer allow counties to require licensing for many of these smaller jobs.

According to the bill, it prohibits local governments from requiring a license for a person whose job scope does not substantially correspond to that of a contractor or journeyman type licensed by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

“The only course of action they will have come July 1, 2023, is to take that person to the civil court,” Aiken said.

It’s a change that would impact people like Rene Gonzalez.

“I had to do the fence job, I had to take additional money that I didn’t have, that I didn’t plan to spend,” Gonzalez said.

He told NBC 6 Responds he paid $4,200 dollars to a contractor to build a fence in his backyard, but the contractor never returned to do the job.

After months of fighting to get his money back, he says the county’s restitution program is now his last hope.

“I am really glad that these people are helping me, I had no idea there was that tool,” Gonzalez said.

The new county licensing requirements start in July of 2023.

In Chenet’s case, we reached out to an attorney representing Ricardo Villarroel but have not heard back as of yet.

As for Gonzalez, he should find out if he will qualify for restitution at a hearing within the next week.

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