Consumers Beware of Unscrupulous Contractors and Attorneys

Consumers beware! Did you know that anybody who is interested in being a general contractor in Washington State and has the petty cash of $109.70 for a license and a bond fee of only $12,000.00, is able to work at this professional trade? A specialty contractor’s bond is only $6,000.00. No knowledge or testing required. Rip-offs are welcome.

This means Joe Blow, without any experience–or at best, minimal knowledge, may be hired to build your house. Then Mr. Blow will turn around and hire incompetent sub-contractor’s or specialty sub-contractors, breach the contract, file bankruptcy, be forgiven in court for the debts they owe at the homeowner’s expense and cause numerous liens on their property.

Then these wannabe contractors are able to recycle their crime and start another business under another name, over and over again. Guess what? It’s all legal in Washington State and they know this. This careless practice and fraudulent crime against homeowners and taxpayers are not tolerable in such states as California and Florida. This is another reason that there is so much construction going on in the State of Washington. It’s easy-pickings for contractor criminals.

The property owner has the burden of proof. They are the victims. Fraud has a different meaning in Washington State. In bankruptcy court, fraud is very hard to prove. If proven against the contractor, the homeowner has a slight chance of seeking a judgment, but collecting that is another challenge. All these crooks have to explain is they went over their heads in expense. The fact is they underestimate the job, usually on purpose. In their trade, the terminology is called “low-balling.” They take draws of money from what the property owner has paid, then fund other projects and don’t pay their supplier’s bills they have in the victim’s name. This results with liens on the property owner.

The contractor’s defense in court is explained on innocent ignorance, not intended fraud. They are getting away with this all the time. Except state courts refuse to call it a crime. These crooks are protected by law. Most have hidden assets and they claim that their earthly possessions are leased, such as homes, vehicles, equipment and everything. Their possessions can’t be pierced or claimed by victims in court. In most cases these are civil matters. They are dismissed in state courts. In other words, the victim is on their own–no crime, no punishment for contractor crooks. Hiring a lawyer for the great fight is up to the victim.

In my case, I’m embarrassed to say, I hired an incompetent lawyer who claimed she had all this experience. The truth is she had no knowledge of breach of contract or bankruptcy issues. The truth came out $34,000.00 later. I received nothing in return. She was hired from a law firm who are notorious in hiring recent law school graduates.

When I challenged her experience and billing practices, she turned arrogant and defensive and went to court and legally withdrew her representation, leaving me in legal chaos and potential counterclaims lawsuits. I did not no where to turn or what to do. I couldn’t believe it–only in Washington State can this happen! All that she did was submit motions and do tons of research that had “failure” written all over it. I realized research was necessary, but for her, research was everything and experience was nil. The judges were no better.

The ignorance, arrogance and incompetence of the general contractor, sub-contractors and lawyer took me for a grand total of over $100,000.00. I was left with no reprisal and had to hire a new lawyer to get me out of this legal and financial mess. What is right with this picture? I got nowhere with my complaints to the Washington State Bar Association and the Attorney General’s office. I am reminded of the presence of the Legislature and their priorities and misguided ethics. As a taxpayer and a registered voter, I feel I have some critical voice of how things are run in this great state. I have lived in Washington State all my fifty- three years. I can’t believe this state with all its beauty and graceful environment has gone so far south in its ideals.

One would think they could sue the state for allowing crooks to work and be licensed as general and specialty contractors. After all, the state issues the license from the Department of Labor and Industries and they allow them to destroy a person’s dreams.

The state must own up to their deficiencies and responsibilities and make the licensing and bond process much stricter. It should be mandatory for contractors to be tested to prove their knowledge and abilities concerning their trade.

For consumers’ sake, here are some helpful strategies in which I lost sight of my common sense. Review the contract the contractor has offered. Check their references by calling and especially visiting their prior job sites and former customers. Verify their bond and insurance policies. Inquire if there has been complaints or court-action claims against them. Only hire contractors who are members of the Master Builders Association or Better Business Bureau. Issue only two-party checks made out to supplier and contractor. This protects consumers from having property liens forced on them. Remember that contractor-bonds are not easy to collect for damages. Review the contractor’s insurance policy. Chances are it will not cover poor workmanship and sub-contractors are almost always untouchable because of tort issues in Washington State.

The sub-contractor are protected under the responsibilities of the general contractor, whatever that is worth. Be acquainted with everybody who sets their foot on your property. Write down company names and vehicle license numbers. And if you file a lawsuit and hire an attorney, make double sure the lawyer is competent. Call your state Bar Association to check the status regarding disciplinary actions or complaints against the attorney you choose.

There are reliable, capable and honest people who work as contractors and lawyers, but the crooked and incompetent ones have put them few and far between, and that truly is a shame.

My chalet-style house has been completed now for three years, but it stood in limbo for seven months in a tangled web of failed inspections and citations. I use to pride myself in the decisions I made in business and investments, but now I am so skeptical of the system and how it works against victims, like myself. My experience was a devastating blow to my confidence and trust.

Perhaps readers will join my cause for justice. The rules and laws are too slack and unjust. Just remember wherever you live, in whatever state, please protect yourself and your investment. Be cautious, alert and informative about your decisions when hiring a general contractor or specialty contractor. And it also goes for the attorney you hire. Pass this information and advice to your family and friends, “consumers beware of unscrupulous contractors and attorneys.”