ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — Action News Jax Ben Becker is investigating how a special Florida fund that is supposed to protect you from a crooked contractor is leaving people feeling victimized all over again.
“It used to be a carport,” said St. Augustine homeowner Greg Rockwell. “I wanted to have a nice garage to store my cars in.”
It all started in Aug. 2018 when Rockwell hired Arcadian Developments to rebuild his garage. He was quoted $56,125 and shelled out 36,481.25 in four different payments, but Rockwell said the contractor skipped town.
“From the start, he took my money and did very little or did it wrong,” said Rockwell. “I went through the state and got a judgment for $36,000 against him.”
Rockwell submitted the judgement from his lawsuit to the Homeowner’s Construction Recovery Fund that is designed to award you money if a contractor mismanages, abandons a project or makes false statements.
Becker learned people are often turned down or wait years for a resolution after obtaining data from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. It shows 509 homeowners have filed claims since 2021and only 220 were approved - that’s only about 43% - 16% were denied and 41% are still waiting.
Rockwell’s claim was rejected at a hearing for an unexpected reason.
“When I got there, they said, ‘You didn’t lose money so we can’t grant you money,” said Rockwell. " I lost $36,000, doesn’t that count for something?’ They said, ‘No, since you did the [rest of the] work and didn’t pay someone else.”
Even if Rockwell won, he would have lost.
In 2016, the state reduced the maximum recovery fund payout for victims from $50,000 to $25,000 or $15,000 depending on the type of contractor.
“It really provides no value to consumers in my experience,” said Barry Ansbacher who is a board-certified construction attorney in Jacksonville. He said getting a judgement in these types of cases is not worth the paper it’s written on.
“In most instances you may easily spend more than the $15,000 or $25,000 going that far,” said Ansbacher. “[and] even that doesn’t give you the money.”
Ansbacher said you need to file an application with the Construction Industry Licensing Board and hope there’s money left in the recovery fund.
The fund had about $24 million in it as of March, but the state only allows $4.5 million to be given to victims per fiscal year - so it’s first come first serve and often you don’t know if a contractor is being investigated.
Becker emailed the state to ask about its process and if it can be simpler and quicker.
“Many complaints against licensed contractors are confidential until probable cause is found,” said a spokesperson.
“You just can’t trust anybody,” said Rockwell. “Don’t give anyone money until the job is done.”
Becker attempted to reach out to the owner of Arcadian Developments, but the owner has relocated to Fayetteville, Georgia, about 30 minutes south of Atlanta.
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There is one big way to protect yourself. Ansbacher said ask the contractor if they can provide a performance bond. It means an insurance company guarantees to financially back the contract if the contractor walks off the job or if the work is shoddy.