Living in Florida, if you don't have one, chances are you want a pool in your backyard.
That's what a handful of families were hoping for when they hired a pool builder. Instead, they claim they got a hole in their pockets and a hole that they can't cool off in.
“In all the price was $32,000,” says Ruthie Kimmons, who lives in Lakeland.
“Over $43,000,” says Chris and Amy Dunnahoe, who also live in Lakeland.
These are just two of the complaints filed with the Polk County Licensing board against the owner of Tropic Pools of Central Florida. They claim John Johnson is taking money from them and not finishing the job.
“This over here was not grouted,” says Dunnahoe when talking about their pool they claim was left unfinished.
Chris and Amy Dunnahoe says they signed a contract with Johnson last year, paying more than $40,000 for a pool. Johnson told them they would be like the ones you would see at a resort.
"At first, [they] made it sound peachy and great. After the contract two weeks later, he said we’d be swimming at the end of August. It never happened. Then, always one thing after another," says Dunnahoe.
Finally this past January, they had Johnson sign a breach of contract, which ultimately said Johnson did not finish the job they paid him to do.
Copy of the breach of contract for the Dunnahoes.
The Dunnahoe’s then forked up another $20,000 to a different company to finish their pool.
“We wanted it to be an experience of a lifetime where it's a seamless process. One of the reasons we had the pool done was for my mother dying of cancer. To this day, she's not been able to get into the pool,” says Dunnahoe.
And while Johnson walked away from the Dunnahoe’s contract on the 4th of January, he entered into a new contract with their neighbors down the street, Reese and Amy Kimmons just days later on the 7th.
“This is a brand new pool and already had leaks,” says Kimmons.
Kimmons says her pool cost her more than $30,000.
“It's been one thing after the other. He shows up and then doesn't show up. And then you don't hear from him for a long time," says Kimmons.
Then she says she started getting notices that subcontractors had put liens on her house.
The liens on the Kimmons home.
She says although she paid Johnson, he allegedly never paid some of the subcontractors working on her pool.
"We work hard for what we have,” says Kimmons
When I pulled the records- I found John Johnson and his company Tropic Pools, isn't just pulling permits in Polk county, but also Hillsborough.
This one was pulled in February.
And when I called that homeowner to see if his pool was finished- he told me he had a similar experience.
He sent me photos of a pool unfinished and copies of checks he wrote out to Tropic Pools.
"I’m just disappointed he's allowed to get away with this,” says Dunnahoe.
And while customers complained they weren't able to track him down, we weren't able to either because his voice mailbox was full.
We were able to at his lakefront home in Winter Haven.
But when we knocked on the door, he never showed up.
"It's just upsetting," says Dunnahoe.
These two families say they just want what they paid for.
The Polk County Sheriff’s office does tell 10News that John Johnson is under criminal investigation.
The Dunnahoe’s unfinished pool.
Tips for consumers to know thanks to our friends at the Better Business Bureau:
The State of Florida requires pool contractors to be licensed, so it’s important to hire a Licensed professional and verify their license at www.myfloridalicense.com.
- CP and RP - A "residential pool/spa contractor" means a contractor whose scope of work involves, but is not limited to:
- The construction, repair, and servicing of any residential swimming pool or hot tub or spa including the repair or replacement of existing equipment or the installation of new equipment, as necessary;
- The layout, excavation, operation of construction pumps for dewatering purposes, steelwork, installation of light niches, construction of floors, guniting, fiberglassing, installation of tile and coping, installation of all perimeter and filter piping, installation of all filter equipment and chemical feeders of any type, plastering of the interior, construction of decks, installation of housing for pool equipment, and installation of package pool heaters; and
- Includes the scope of work of a swimming pool/spa servicing contractor.
- A "residential pool/spa contractor" cannot perform direct connections to a sanitary sewer system or to potable water lines.
- The installation, construction, modification, or replacement of equipment permanently attached to and associated with the pool or spa for the purpose of water treatment or cleaning of the pool or spa requires licensure; however, the usage of such equipment for the purposes of water treatment or cleaning shall not require licensure unless the usage involves construction, modification, or replacement of such equipment.
- Ask for Recommendations. Ask friends, family members, and neighbors who have recently hired a contractor for suggestions.
- Look for the BBB Accredited Business Seal. BBB Accredited contractors meet BBB accreditation standards, which include a commitment to build trust, advertise honestly, tell the truth, be transparent, honor their promises, be responsive to their customers, safeguard privacy and embody integrity.
- Track Record. Before you hire check out the contractor at bbb.org. It’s fast, easy and free. Also search the contractor online adding the word “Complaint”, “Reviews” or “Scam” after their name for different search results.
- Verify License. Make sure the company has a current and active state license with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation by calling (850) 487-1395 or visiting www.myfloridalicense.com. Check with your county contractors’ licensing board to make sure the company is also registered with them.
- Note: The license number must be connected to the business name and displayed on all advertising, including vehicles, websites, business cards, and contracts. An Occupational License or Business Tax Receipt is NOT sufficient in the construction trades. Being registered with the Division of Corporations as in INC. or LLC. does not mean they have the professional license to do your job.
- Cost Comparisons. Get at least three quotes in writing, compare the quotes based on the same specification and make sure they have the proper equipment to perform the job. Make sure the contractors create an itemized estimate so you can compare cost, efficiency, and warranties between the bids. Ask if the land surrounding the project will be disrupted or removed during the job. Find out how long the project will take to complete and how weather conditions will affect the status of the project. Don’t assume that something discussed verbally is included if it’s not specified. Remember, quality of work may be more important than price. Beware of contractors who claim to be the fastest or the cheapest. Hiring them could result in poor workmanship, inferior materials or unfinished jobs.
- Qualifications. Ask if the contractor is associated with a trade organization. Members often have greater experience and are expected to uphold to a strict code of ethics. Quality building manufacturers only want trust-worthy contractors installing their products. Find out if the contractor has been approved as an authorized dealer.
- Insurance. Verify the company has personal and property damage liability insurance and workers’ compensation insurance by getting certificates of insurance with you listed as the certificate holder. You can also verify proof of workers’ comp Insurance with the Florida Department of Financial Services. Make sure that all workers on the job site are covered.
- Request References. Ask the contractor for a list of references you may contact. Ask the references about the services that were performed and their overall experience with the contractor. Ask if the contractor stuck to the estimated budget and completion date for the project. Find out if the references were completely satisfied with the job that was performed.
- Permits. The contractor should obtain all required permits for the job and post it on the front of the property to verify the work was done to code. Request all final inspections be completed by the local building official prior to final payment. Permits can also be required as part of future insurance claims.
- Deposits and Payment. Do not pay large payments upfront. Pay by check or credit card for added protection. If paying by check, make it out to the name of the business, be cautious if asked to make check out to an individual especially when dealing with a company. Paying by credit card provides some recourse should the job not be completed as stated in the contract. Make sure your contractor provides you with releases of liens from his subcontractors and suppliers with each payment and a Contractor’s Affidavit at the completion of the job. This assures that everyone involved with this job has been paid.
- Criminal History. Check out anyone you allow onto your property to see if they have a criminal history. Ask the company: Do the contractors on the job undergo a background check? Are they trained and certified? Will they be wearing name tags and uniforms on the job? Are company vehicles clearly marked?
- Signing a Contract. Review your contract before you sign it. Get all the details in writing. Make sure the contract includes: the contractor’s name, street address, telephone number and state license number. A precise description of work to be completed, including a work completion timeline (draw schedule) and list of materials that will be used, exact costs, estimated start and completion dates (including cleanup after the work is finished) and details of the work being done. Ask if there is a warranty. If so, make sure to include it in the contract detailing length, terms, and recourse. Be sure to read the fine print carefully and personally fill in any blank spaces. Consider having an attorney review the contract. A notice of consumers’ rights under Florida Homeowners’ Construction Recovery Fund for contracts involving general, residential and building contractors should be included. Clearly, written proposals that are detailed and broken down into separate line items are a good sign that the contractor is being thorough and has prepared an accurate estimate.
BBB® offers these tips for selecting a trustworthy swimming pool contractor and ensuring you enjoy your oasis for seasons to come.
Done right, a swimming pool is an investment that can add joy to your life and increase your property value but, if done poorly, it can cause quite a headache.