HAMILTON COUNTY, Ind.-- Spring is finally here and you may be thinking about sprucing up your home or yard.
But before you hire a contractor, make sure to do your research up front.
Call 6 Investigates found trying to get a refund or justice after you’ve been wronged by a company can be downright difficult.
Noblesville contractor Mark Sellers has more than $110,000 in civil judgments in Indiana dating back to 2014 after homeowners said he took their money and didn’t do the work promised.
However, homeowners have not been able to collect on those judgments.
Call 6 Investigates confronted Sellers about whether he will give people their money back.
“Yeah, through the judgments we will,” said Sellers. “I’m working on that.”
Fishers consumer law attorney Robert Duff said it’s tough to get your money back after the fact.
“It’s very difficult,” said Duff.
Consumers have the option to file a complaint in small claims court, or to hire an attorney like Duff.
But Duff said he’s reluctant to take cases unless he knows the business is financially stable.
“I have to know that this is an established entity that is going to be able to pay a verdict,” said Duff.
For consumers who are able to get a judgment, collecting on that judgment is a different story.
“It’s not really worth anything more than the paper it’s printed on because it’s very difficult to collect on it,” said Duff.
The three ways to collect on a judgment are to place an automatic lien on the contractor’s real estate, garnishing wages, and garnishing bank accounts.
“You have to know where their bank account is, and there has to be significant money in there to do that,” said Duff. “You can’t garnish wages if they’re self employed.”
Noblesville homeowner Tina Duncan filed a police report about Mark Sellers, but he has not been criminally charged in connection with his work.
In general, many prosecutors and police consider contractor issues a civil matter, especially if the contractor performs any work.
“Unfortunately, they are dealing with crimes involving serious injury and violence and greater amounts of money, and contractor problems tend to take a back seat,” said Duff. “They have to make decisions about where to take their resources.”
Duff points out that there are numerous laws in place that protect consumers and he encourages people to file a police report so police can track the activity.
"When you put them all together a pattern develops,” said Duff. “That's not something an individual can do and you need law enforcement in that situation.”
The Indiana Attorney General’s Office launched a campaign called “Double check before you write a check ,” encouraging homeowners to research a company’s name, reputation, history and authenticity before writing a check or handing them money.
In 2016, the Attorney General’s office received 91 complaints about failure to perform or complete a contract.
When it determines a pattern, the Indiana Attorney General’s office can and does file lawsuits against companies typically under the Home Solicitation Sales Act, the Home Improvement Contracts Act, the Deceptive Consumers Sales Act, and the Senior Consumer Protection Act.
Before you hire a contractor, look up their name on MyCase to see if they have any criminal or civil cases.
Also, get the contract in writing and use a credit card rather than writing a check.
"Taking the time to do a little investigation and not completely trusting what you're told," said Duff.
You can check to see if the contractor has a license, but know not all cities and counties require them.
For example, Mark Sellers has a license in Marion County but is not licensed in Noblesville because the city does not require a license for contractors.
Also, ask to see example of their work and call their references.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” said Duff.
If you think you’ve been scammed, or you want to research a company, contact the Indiana Attorney General’s office at IndianaConsumer.com or call (800) 382-5516.
TIPS FOR HIRING A CONTRACTOR:
- Get estimates in writing
- Check for criminal charges or civil suits here
- Check for a contractor’s license
- Ask for references and call them
- Ask to see examples of their work
- Ask about insurance: personal liability, worker’s comp, and property damage coverage
- Pay wisely, not all up front
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