Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino and the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs have filed a Complaint alleging that a South Jersey-based contractor used deceptive practices to obtain more than $348,000 in federal relief funds from nine homeowners who sought to have their damaged homes rebuilt, elevated and/or repaired after Superstorm Sandy.
According to the Complaint, filed in the Superior Court Chancery Division in Ocean County, D.J.M. Households Inc., doing business as Jersey Pride Home Renovations, and its owner, William A. Wolford, allegedly violated the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act and a number of regulations governing contractors and advertising by failing to perform contracted-for home improvements and/or home elevations after receiving federal Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) Program funds, Landlord Rental Repair Program (LRRP) funds, and consumer payments.
The Complaint alleges that D.J.M. Households, which maintained an office in Cherry Hill and later in Mullica Hill, pressured consumers to sign contracts for renovation, rebuilding and/or elevating Sandy-damaged homes, took money, which included RREM Program or LRRP funds, and then failed to begin work and/or abandoned unfinished projects without returning for weeks, months or at all.
“More than five years after Superstorm Sandy, some New Jersey residents are still suffering from its devastation. Unscrupulous contractors have added to that agony,” said Attorney General Porrino. “Deceiving and profiting from displaced homeowners by making false promises is a cruel abuse and will not be tolerated.”
“Rooting out and disciplining rogue contractors who have preyed on some of the state’s most vulnerable homeowners is a priority for the Division,” said Sharon M. Joyce, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “As long as there are those who would take advantage of others’ desperation, we will continue to be vigilant and protect those in need.”
Seven of the consumers identified in the Complaint received funds from the RREM Program, administered by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA), to pay for construction work on Sandy-damaged homes. Another two consumers identified in the Complaint received LLRP funds, also administered by DCA.
The defendants, the Complaint alleges, sought to pressure consumers into signing contracts by including “terms and conditions” that indicated the quoted price for the home improvement work was only valid for 48 hours and that contractor scheduling was on a “first come first serve method.”
The Complaint also alleges that although the D.J.M. Household contracts often stated that the defendants would obtain the necessary building and zoning permits for the home elevation and home improvement work, the defendants delayed filing for the permits without providing any explanation. These delays caused homeowners to be displaced for even longer periods and resulted in additional housing and/or storage fees. Landlords also were unable to have their rental properties occupied, leading to loss of rental income.
“In order to help homeowners in the State’s RREM Program withstand contractor fraud, my Department created and instituted a policy that provides additional assistance to defrauded homeowners,” said DCA Commissioner Charles A. Richman. “We see first-hand how dishonest contractors upend Sandy-impacted families’ rebuilding projects and lives, and we stand with the Division of Consumer Affairs in doing whatever we can to thwart these contractors’ deceptive practices.”
The Complaint, among other things, also alleges that:
- The defendants violated the Home Elevation Regulations by engaging in the business of home elevations without being registered as a Home Elevation Contractor with the Division.
- At various times, the defendants performed home elevation and/or home improvement work in a substandard manner.
- The defendants on at least one occasion abandoned home elevation work while the home was raised, causing the dwelling to separate in the middle and the walls to crack, leaving the home uninhabitable.
- At various times, the defendants performed home improvement and/or home elevation work that failed to pass municipal inspections, and then failed to correct the work.
- The defendants on at least one occasion left construction debris from another home elevation project on a consumer’s property and failed to remove it, causing the consumer to incur additional costs to remove the material.
- At various times, the defendants caused damage to consumers’ homes while performing work and failed to correct the damage or compensate the consumer for the damage.
The Complaint seeks consumer restitution, a return of the federal funds unlawfully acquired by the defendants, civil penalties as well as reimbursement of attorneys’ fees and costs. The Complaint also seeks to permanently enjoin the defendants from performing home elevation and/or home improvement work in New Jersey.
Investigators Joseph Iasso and Maureen Browne of the Division’s Office of Consumer Protection conducted the investigation.
Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Koziar of the Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section within the Division of Law, is representing the State in this action.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file an online complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504- 6200.