A Bay area man has a pattern of money and leaving customers, and other contractors, in a bind, according to 10 News.
Jeremy Howen tells 10 News there are a lot of reasons why he's had problems with his jobs, from financial woes to issues with other construction workers.
Safety Harbor Code Enforcement became aware of Howen's construction work, when a tenant reported code violations at a rental home on Bayview Drive in Safety Harbor.
"According to the owner there were some problems with the contractor that he hired," says Safety Harbor Code Enforcement Inspector Joe Young. "The roof was probably the major issue. It was leaking and obviously needed to be repaired."
The homeowner says he paid Howen more than $10,000 to fix the problems.
Howen, then hired a roofer. The roofer tells 10 News that he he did $5,000 worth of work and hasn't seen a dime yet. It's money the homeowner paid to Howen that Howen kept for himself.
Here's what Howen had to say when WTSP caught up with him:
WTSP: We understand that you're doing contract work?
Howen: Yes, I was.
WTSP: Do you have a license for that?
Howen: I was working under my brother.
WTSP: Is that legal?
Howen: Since the contracts were in his name, yeah.
WTSP: Do you have permission to be operating under his license?
Howen: Yes, I do.
WTSP: Because that's not what he told a roofer who you owe money to.
Howen: I no longer do. I no longer am doing work there either.
Howen has been operating under J Howen Inc., which is legal in the state, with the general contractor's permission. It's his brother Justin Howen's company, according to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
A contractor is leaving debts and questions in his path.
Justin Howen has a certified general contractor's license with the state. Jeremy Howen does not. Justin Howen didn't return several messages from 10 News.
Safety Harbor Code Enforcement confirms that Justin Howen is certified to work in Pinellas County. Jeremy Howen is not and neither is registered with the City of Safety Harbor.
The complaints against Jeremy Howen go back at least to 2008, when Pinellas County sheriff's records show a homeowner reported Howen after the homeowner paid Howen a deposit for a new garage door. The homeowner says Howen started harassing him when he cancelled the work by posting his phone number and fake yard sale ads online. The court forced Howen to refund the $882 deposit.
A Tampa homeowner, who didn't want to be identified, tells 10 News that Howen just refinished his two bathrooms in the past two weeks using his brother's license.
"I didn't do any research. He said he's a general license contractor," the homeowner says.
He had no idea Howen isn't a general contractor and satisfactorily completed the work, but now worries about who he hired.
"He said he's a general contractor, and he can do anything that's involving the renovations," says the homeowner.
Howen showed me signed documents that he had permission to operate under his brother's license, but that apparently ended after a falling out a couple of months ago.
Howen says his criminal past prevented him from getting his own license.
He's been arrested in at least three counties for worthless checks to unlicensed specialty contracting.
The roofing contractor tells 10 News that he tried to cash the first $1,200 payment from Howen on Thursday, but was told by the bank the funds weren't there.
A civil suit is the next step.
The Department of Business and Professional Regulation oversees licenses in the state and has these tips for working with contractors:
Consumers can protect themselves from contracting scams by asking the right questions and taking action:
- Ask for a second opinion. By asking for a second opinion, you can verify that the first estimate or assessment by a contractor does not contradict.
- Ask for a formal quote and estimate. Do not commit to a contract or pay on the spot. Do not make a payment on the spot or provide personal or financial information. Oftentimes, scams are committed by individuals who pressure consumers to make a decision on the spot by greatly reducing the price. Be attentive to these high-pressure sales tactics and make informed decisions.
- Verify professional licenses by calling the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation at (850) 487-1395, visiting the website or downloading the free DBPR Mobile app.
- To file complaints against unlicensed professionals, call the Unlicensed Activity Hotline at 1-866-532-1440 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- When hiring a contractor for repair of an A/C unit, always verify your original warranty. Your current system may still be under warranty. Most warranties are valid for 10 or 20 years. Oftentimes, unlicensed A/C contractors prey on the elderly and tell them that their unit needs to be repaired when it's under warranty.
DBPR urges consumers to follow these tips when dealing with a building contractor:
· Hire only licensed contractors and always ask to see the license. Tell the contractor that you will verify their license. You can do so online here or on the DBPR Mobile app or by calling 850-487-1395.
· On any construction or repair job, don't pay more than 10 percent down or $1,000, whichever is less, until the job is complete.
· Get three bids, check references and get a written contract.
· Beware of scams when individuals ask for all the money up front, will only accept cash or solicit door-to-door.
· Do not sign a certificate of completion until you are satisfied with the work done.
If a consumer suspects they are a victim of unlicensed activity, they can report it to the department by:
· Email: ULA@myfloridalicense.com
· Hotline: 866.532.1440 (inside Florida) or 850.488.6603 (outside Florida)
· DBPR Mobile app: File a complaint directly from the mobile app to include descriptions and pictures