Dawn Beauregard and Jeff Wagner hired a contractor to work on a cottage they bought for summer and weekend getaways. But once the contractor started working, issues kept popping up, Ryan Kath of NBC10 Boston reported.
The handiwork problems ranged from drywall holes and unbalanced walls to omitted insulation and screws and an electrical panel that would not tighten over live wires.
“It was an absolute mess,” Beauregard said. “It just continued to snowball, and we decided we had to terminate the contract.”
Beauregard and Wagner have now lost about $50,000 because they needed a different contractor to undo the issues and get the job done correctly.
“It takes a toll, for sure,” Beauregard said. “We’re both exhausted. We don’t trust anyone anymore. We’re just so skittish about hiring anyone and pulling the trigger.”
Beauregard and Wagner thought some of that money could be paid back from a state fund for residents who lose money from contractor projects. But because the cottage is not the couple’s primary home, they were not able to file a Guaranty Fund claim or submit a complaint about the contractor.
Complaints are investigated by the Office of Consumer Affairs and can help future consumers looking for contractors.
“It is incredibly frustrating, and infuriating is probably a better word,” Beauregard said. “It makes zero sense. Any individual that is using a home improvement contractor should be eligible for a fund they’re paying into. How does that protect the consumer?”
Since the program began in the 1990s, the $10,000 payment limit has stayed the same.
Konstantin and Zoya Derman did not have repairs to fix since their contractor filed for bankruptcy soon after receiving their $35,000 deposit. However, residents need to prove that they have exhausted all other avenues to collect the money to satisfy the Guaranty Fund requirements, and those avenues include a judgment through arbitration or civil court.
That requirement is giving the Dermans hesitation since they would also need to pay for legal fees and a constable to serve the contractor with the judgment.
“Do I want to commit another $50,000 to get my $10,000 back?” Zoya Derman asked. “It just didn’t make sense. It just seemed like it was stacked up against us.”
Records show that the Guaranty Fund is only paying out a small portion of its generated money each year. That has led to a fund balance jump from $750,000 in 2016 to $4.4 million in 2023. In 2022, the program raised a revenue of $800,614 but only gave out $170,615 to residents.
“We’re trying to really close off these loopholes that are hurting consumers,” said Sen. Susan Moran, who sits on the legislature’s consumer protection committee. “We can look at getting more money to more people more quickly.”
Moran is filing a bill to increase the limit for the fund to $30,000 per consumer. Further, Moran’s legislation would require contractor background checks when they register or renew licenses.
The proposed legislation would allow the contractor oversight agency to block registration if a contractor has been convicted for gross fraud, which would likely have stopped Steve Docchio.
Docchio is a Massachusetts registered contractor but is ineligible to work in Connecticut and Rhode Island. Residents have won hundreds of thousands of dollars against him in civil judgments, but there has not been a successful Guaranty Fund claim against him.
Docchio is one example of why Moran thinks the Guaranty Fund process needs to be reviewed. She also said she would consider if the fund should be available for secondary property owners.
“Change the law, close the loophole and actually protect us,” Beauregard said.