Worst Cincinnati Contractors of 2011
Urban Active Fitness | Six Cincinnati-area locations
Urban Active Fitness, with six Cincinnati locations and several other fitness center locations in Ohio and Kentucky, faces the prospect of two class action lawsuits after at least 15 customers filed complaints against the company.
The lawsuits, filed in April in Franklin and Cuyahoga counties against the Lexington, Ky.-based chain, allege violations of the Ohio Deceptive Trade Practices Act, breach of contract and unfair and deceptive business practices related to customers trying to cancel memberships.
The suits claim Urban Active's 30-day cancellation policy is "unfair and abusive" because it obligates a member to a two-month contract, even though UAF markets month-to-month contracts.
"They do everything in their power to make it difficult for members to discontinue electronic transfers," says James DeRoche, the attorney representing six plaintiffs in the Cuyahoga County action. "The law in Ohio is pretty clear about scenarios under which you can discontinue service, and they are thumbing their nose at laws that exist."
When Cincinnati member Heather Wietzel tried to cancel her membership at the chain's Hyde Park location, which has a poor rating on the List with five reports, she was told she would be billed for additional months, depending on how long it took to process her cancellation.
"I had already paid for my last month when I signed up," Wietzel says. "If they can get an extra $40 or $80 in exchange for nothing meaningful, this is like a little cash cow for them." She says she successfully fought the final charge after complaining to the Ohio attorney general and her credit card company.
Attorneys for Urban Active filed a motion to dismiss one suit and for partial judgment in the other. Coby DeVary, the company's chief operating officer, says UAF takes the lawsuits seriously, but considers them to be meritless cases. "Everyone has the right to dispute signed agreements but using the terms 'unfair and deceptive practices' loosely without proper factual basis is simply wrong."
The Ohio AG's office also recorded 217 complaints against the company, including 35 against the six Cincinnati locations, most of which concerned customers' rights to cancel their membership or get a refund.
Action Fence | Cleves, Ohio
Action Fence owner James Burchett, who also operated as Affordable Fence and Budget Fence, received an 18-month prison sentence in October after pleading guilty to four counts of felony theft, including two counts involving theft from the elderly.
He's accused of taking more than $17,000 for construction jobs that he never completed. In the largest case, 87-year-old Ellen Clark of Cincinnati paid Burchett $13,000 to install a fence, but she says he did shoddy work and never completed the job, court documents say.
The charges against Burchett, who doesn't hold the required home improvement contractor license in Cincinnati, show how the state's consumer protection unit uses consumer complaints to connect patterns involving the same contractor, AG spokeswoman Lisa Hackley says.
While Action Fence has a high rating on the List from a 2001 report, Affordable Fence has a low rating from a 2008 report that landed the company in the Penalty Box. A notice on Burchett's AL company profile alerts members.
Two other victims listed in the criminal action also won civil judgments against Burchett: Mary Winn of Cincinnati won $2,000 for a retaining wall she paid for but never received, and Carol Hickey of Cincinnati won $1,029 for a concrete porch and rails she paid for but never received.
Court records indicate losses of more than $17,000 by Clark, Winn, Hickey and a fourth victim, Kenneth Blank.
Hickey says whenever she tried to get Burchett to complete the work he'd abandoned, he always had an excuse ready. "He was always at a funeral when I called him, or he'd tell me his mother-in-law was dying," she says.
Bart Cosgrove, who prosecuted the case, says he considered Burchett's offenses particularly egregious because he would take money and never do any work at all. Last year, the attorney general's office received 32,000 consumer complaints about contractors, leading the AG's office to create a new division dedicated to ferreting out fraudulent work. "We want people to know there's a place to go when these offenses take place," Cosgrove says.
Attorney David Daugherty, who represented Burchett in the criminal case, declined to comment on his client's behalf. Burchett remains in custody at the Correctional Reception Center in Orient.
Home Remodeling Solutions | Mason, Ohio
Angie's List member Raymond Louie of Cincinnati says he paid owner Jeremy St. John $3,000 in advance to replace his siding, but the crew arrived with substandard materials. After trying for several months to get the company to return with the correct materials, Louie filed a poor report on Angie's List - its only report - landing the company in the Penalty Box in July.
"He always had excuses, and eventually he stopped taking my calls entirely," Louie says. A notice on the company's AL company profile alerts members.
St. John, who isn't a registered Cincinnati contractor, claims the distributor went bankrupt after he paid for Louie's materials. "If Raymond had been willing to wait a few months, we could have worked something out," he says.
A judge also ordered St. John to pay a $2,500 civil judgment to Middletown resident Ron Rettich for shoddy work on replacing his roof and chimney. "He never showed up for court, and I don't expect to see him or the money again," Rettich says.
All Mold Solutions/Mold Tech | West Chester, Ohio
Owner Rick Dryden returns as a Cincinnati Worst Contractor for the second year in a row after continuing to allegedly accept money in 2011 for mold inspections, but not performing any work. Angie's List received one complaint in 2011 about Dryden, while the Cincinnati BBB received three. City records show he doesn't hold the required Cincinnati contractor registration.
Priscilla Luh of Cincinnati says she paid Dryden $440 in February for a mold test he never performed, according to court documents. She filed a low report on the company in March.
Dryden also received a 180-day suspended prison sentence in September after pleading guilty to stealing medicine from a dentist's office. He also has a previous felony conviction for passing bad checks. A notice on his Angie's List profile alerts members. Dryden's phone numbers are disconnected.
- by Paul Pogue and Adam Wire