PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. -- Meet Nima Setlur; she spent more than $100,000 on renovations.
"This is the two-story garage,” said Setlur, who lives in Pinellas County. Four years ago, Setlur thought she would be getting her dream garage. “It’s 2,300 square foot."
It wouldn't hold cars.
"It was a little over $100,000," Setlur said.
It would be the new location for her antique furniture business.
“If you notice, the windows that were put on there,” Setlur said.
But today, the business is still not open.
“It's very incorrectly installed,” Setlur said.
Because the job she hired contractors to do was never done correctly. The siding is coming apart and mold has started to grow inside from water coming into the building.
“It's horrible,” Setlur said.
Looking for help
Setlur says she later learned that her contractor never had the proper license to build a garage this big. So she made her way to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office to make a criminal complaint.
“The sheriff's office said this was a civil matter even though the dollar amount was high," Setlur said. "I needed somebody to help me."
But her help would come in the way of her attorney Daniel Moody. He went with Setlur to the sheriff's office to file her complaint.
“She would've been turned away if I did not argue with the deputy," Moody said. "I told him I’ve been doing this for three decades. Finally, they took an incident report."
Moody said, unfortunately, this is something that's happening all too often.
'It's very disheartening and discouraging to homeowners," Moody said. "When homeowners have litigation dispute, it’s very expensive to try a civil case.
"Homeowners' only choices sometimes are to report criminal violations to law enforcement."
Moody says the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office has told him the sheriff is developing a trial program to target unlicensed violators.
Trial program to target unlicensed contractors
Sheriff Bob Gualtieri says his office's program now is up and running.
“With the Pinellas County Licensing Board, there was not enough investigators to handle complaints,” Gualtieri said.
The sheriff says while this program was brought up from issues at the Pinellas County Licensing Board where many consumers found themselves reporting problems, this unit will allow deputies to get the training needed in hope to better understand what is criminal and what is civil.
“There will be a system good reporting good accountability,” Gualtieiri said.
The unit is part of a six-month pilot program.
If successful, the sheriff believes more deputies will need to be hired.
You can report the violations to the sheriff's office by downloading an app by typing in "Pinellas County" in your app store and its called "See, Click, Fix." That’s one way people can report violations.
There is now a mechanism in place to track all of these complaints and this is something the sheriff says was not in Pinellas County in years past.
What are the options available for consumers?
Unfortunately, Setlur is not alone. Every day in Florida, a person is either being wronged or getting that phone call that is a scam. So where can you turn?
A lawyer? That'll cost money. Law enforcement? If it's criminal.
But there is also this place: your county’s Consumer Protection Agency.
There are a handful of these agencies In the state of Florida.
In the Bay Area, there’s two: one in Hillsborough County and another in Pinellas.
“We investigate any type of consumer complaint," said Doug Templeton with the Pinellas County Consumer Protection office. "Whether that involves landlord tenant issue, auto repair scam, any type of consumer business transaction where you may have dispute we can assist through a variety of ways."
And the best part...
“We’re a free service,” Templeton said.
Not only do the look into consumer complaints, they also oversee county ordinances and educate people on the latest scams that may be taking place.
If you are not sure whether you've been wronged or scammed, give them a call and they'll tell you.
“Our mission to protect the consumer from unfair and deceptive trade practices while maintaining a marketplace for businesses to operate in,” Templeton said.
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