Dallas homeowner allegedly scammed by unlicensed contractor

Dallas homeowner allegedly scammed by unlicensed contractor

Angie's List member Don Zablosky of Dallas learned a hard lesson about properly vetting contractors after paying Lakewood Enterprises $76,000 for a second-floor addition to his home.

Zablosky admits he didn't research the unregistered Dallas company and says owner Scott South left the addition unfinished even though he paid for 97 percent of the project up front. "A lot of what happened was due to my ignorance," says Zablosky, who joined Angie's List as a result of his experience.

When contacted by Angie's List Magazine, South denied doing the work for Zablosky. However, documents provided by the homeowner include South's notarized signature.

After the company allegedly abandoned the project, Zablosky says he contacted the Texas Residential Construction Commission - created in 2003 to regulate home building – and got nowhere. "I don't think the TRCC had any teeth," he says.

This month the TRCC is starting a yearlong process to shut down after the state's Sunset Advisory Commission found that it "fails to provide meaningful oversight and public protection."

Its demise means consumers must be more vigilant when hiring a builder or remodeler, says Rob Jackson, Dallas chapter president of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

Texas still regulates several other trades, including electricians, plumbers and HVAC contractors. To become licensed, contractors must take an exam and show proof of insurance. Complaints are investigated by the state, which can issue citations and suspend or revoke licenses.

Many cities, including Arlington, Plano, Richardson, Fort Worth and Irving, require state and city licenses for plumbing, electrical and HVAC contractors. Irving also requires a city license for fencing and concrete contractors. In addition, those cities require remodelers to register with the city and the TRCC.

That will change, however, with the abolishment of the TRCC, says Ed Dryden, an Arlington building official. "But for now I suggest homeowners always get at least three bids, and ask for and really check out references."

Marcia Kushner, Texas representative for Homeowners Against Deficient Dwellings, a consumer protection group, agrees prevention is the best defense. Besides Angie's List, Kushner recommends checking forums such as HADD, Homeowners for Better Building and Texas Watch. "It's also a good idea to Google the contractor's name using words like 'problems,' 'defects' and 'lawsuits,'" she says.

Jackson, who is also president of highly rated Servant Remodeling in Dallas, says homeowners should consult associations such as the National Home Builders Association and NARI. "[We make] sure our members are insured and follow a code of ethics," he says.

Walker M. Duke, a lawyer who specializes in construction law, foresees statewide licensing in that trade's future. "If there are enough complaints, there will be regulation," Duke says.

You can check the licensing status of Dallas-area companies online or by phone. Log in to angieslist.com for more details.

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