STARK COUNTY - It's one of the top consumer complaints in Ohio.
Bad contractors who run off with tens of thousands of dollars of homeowner's money. But nothing is being done to protect them. That’s because of lawmakers, who it seems, couldn't care less, or who claim they didn't even realize this was a problem.
But we did some digging and found out who's holding things up. And I'm naming names.
“Why do you keep doing this to people?” I yelled at Jack Groesser in the Stark County courthouse.
Groesser is the face of Final Destination Restoration, a contractor I followed for years, accused of victimizing homeowners.
He's now charged with felony grand theft, for supposedly taking more than 40 thousand dollars
and leaving a home in shambles.
“It's the same story over and over again. All these people are lying?" I asked him.
This case is a big deal. Contractors rarely get dragged into court. And they're rarely charged criminally.
"By the time you sue and spend money to go to court you will spend more money than you lost," said one homeowner who claims she was taken advantage of by a contractor.
She says she lost more than 28 thousand dollars, and was close to tears, as she described a contractor who hit her gas line, before failing to get his work passed by inspectors for a year.
"We called probably 10 other contractors after we terminated our contract and no one wanted to touch the job," she explained.
These home owner horrors happen all the time because of one reason. The laws in Ohio stink.
"Here if you get a bond and license, just walk in and fill out then application, then you're a contractor. That should not be," says Representative Bill Patmon
Representative Patmon has introduced four bills since 2011 to protect homeowners from incompetent contractors. I even testified at the State House two years ago in support of one of them.
That bill died. As did all the others. But Patmon's not giving up. He recently introduced House Bill 148. It's severely watered down legislation, but it would at least give homeowners some protection.
It requires statewide registration. Establishes a board to review contractors. And mandates continuing education that would at least ensure these contractors know how to use a hammer.
"You have one registration number. One person signs it, and if you violate it, then we can come after you,” Representative Patmon explains.
Right now, rogue contractors do their damage, change their company name if someone goes after them, and they're back in business the next day with little recourse for homeowners. But that's not the case in other parts of the country.
We found at least 30 states with some sort of state licensing and registration for general contractors, and at least 11 also have recovery funds to help homeowners recoup lost money. In Ohio we have nothing.
The irony, is that the majority of contractor groups support legislation, including the Home Builders Association of Ohio and the Cleveland chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.
"If it's harder for a contractor to get a license you will start the process of it's just not worth it for them to do it," says contractor and NARI Cleveland member Anthony Costanzo.
But two groups, the Home Builders Association of Cincinnati and Toledo, are against new laws saying its members already follow the rules. And they've been busy lobbying legislators to kill these bills.
They wouldn't talk to me about this, nor would two law makers we found took $500 each in donations from that Cincinnati group; newly elected Representative Scott Lipps and Representative Louis Blessing III.
Blessing’s been on the Commerce and Labor Committee which blew off three of Patmon's bills. And that's part of the problem. Most legislators could care less about protecting homeowners.
You want proof? I called every single member of the House Finance Committee where Patmon's latest bill was introduced. Two thirds of them never even called back. As for those that did, or at least had their aides call back, only two would comment.
And then there were three other top dogs who also wouldn't comment: Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger, Representative Ron Young who Chairs the Economic Development Committee, which dismissed many of those bills, and Senator Jay Hottinger of the Transportation and Commerce Committee which would also handle contractor legislation.
We discovered none of them had any problem taking thousands of dollars from the Home Builders Association of Ohio, while doing nothing to help them protect homeowners.... until now.
Ironically, Chairman Young is now co-sponsoring Patmon's latest legislation.
"This should have been a law a long time ago," says Representative Patmon.
Somehow, only a few groups yielded enough power to keep at least 9 bills since 2008 from being passed.
I showed Attorney General Mike DeWine all of the bills that have been introduced and asked him why they all failed. He didn't want to speculate, even though he supports legislation. His office has complaints against more than 1800 home contractors. But he did say homeowners need to convince their legislators how bad the problem is.
“I can tell you from my personal experience, I passed a drunk driving bill when I was in the State Senate. The only reason I was thinking about that is a grandfather who had lost a 7 year old grandchild came to me. It was obviously gut wrenching for him. And after I talked to him, I became passionate about it as well. And so those individual relationships, and talking to your legislator, there is no substitute for that as far as effectiveness," the General said.
So it seems it's going to be status quo, until one of these lawmakers loses everything. Because clearly consumers whose lives have been turned upside down aren't enough to move them.
"They don't understand the stress it puts on a homeowner. We lost the money. My husband was not sleeping. Our marriage suffered. I can't believe they don't have a conscience about the wrong they are doing to people,” one homeowner said.
I'll tell you this. I promise you I am not giving up on this fight to get legislation passed.
My next stop...the Governor. But we need to do our part by going to our representatives and demanding they do something. They work for us, and we have the power to vote them out of office. Stay tuned!
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