On Your Side: Limiting your damages from unlicensed contractors

On Your Side: Limiting your damages from unlicensed contractors
You go to court, win a judgment and still can't get your money from the contractor who did you wrong. It's sad, but true for several homeowners and sub-contractors who sued and won judgments against unlicensed landscaper, Paul Anderson but haven't been able to collect.  
They say they feel let down by the state and court for not handling Anderson more severely and keeping unsuspecting consumers safe.  We recently caught up with Paul Anderson outside Chesterfield Juvenile Domestic Relations Court. The unrelated case alleging assault on a family member was continued.
Anderson walked in and out refusing to answer questions about why he hasn't paid court judgments and people he owes for unfinished jobs.
Homeowner Paul Fleming, who won a judgment but can’t collect, says, "I'm embarrassed to say it was $30,000. I was willing to say he did half of it. He put in shrubs and most of them lived." Fleming says he testified helping the state convict Anderson of operating without a license a year ago.  He says Anderson got weekend jail time.   Fleming says the judgment victory isn't worth the paper it's on.  
Fleming adds, "The forms look really nice filled out. The look very official, but you're right, they don't mean anything." He says the system that was supposed to protect him did not.
"I had the contractor's board assurance that if I could not get payment from Paul that they had a fund that I could draw from," he says. Turns out, he doesn't qualify for relief from the state. The state's cash recovery fund is for people injured by licensed contractors. 
We talked with Mary Broz Vaughan with the Department of Profession & Occupational Regulation. "It's sad when we have to tell folks you are not eligible because you worked with an unlicensed contractor or a contractor whose license had been revoked," she says. "It's like being victimized again."

Some people, like Cinder Geisinger, who won a $1,200 judgment against Anderson in 2014, give up because injured customers who win court judgments are left to navigate the collection process alone. "I don't have financial resources to pursue it past what I have," Geisinger says. "I tried garnishment. It came back as he doesn't bank here.''

Fleming says the take away from his bad experience is to check out the contractor first, “I can blame Paul Anderson all day long. However, at the end of the day, the responsibility belongs to me for not checking his references, for not checking that contractor's license number. Had I done that, I would not be talking to you today."  

To limit your damages should something go wrong with a job, don't pay more than 10 percent down. Don't let payments get ahead of the work. Get a license number and check it with the Board of Contractors. The contractor's name should match the license number.

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