Bill would set penalties for home improvement fraud

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 8, 2001

Helen Spencer had never noticed that the foundation of her Woodland Drive house wasn’t level – but the contractor who appeared at her door insisted it wasn’t, and offered to level it out for $1,000.

The contractor finally agreed to do the job for $600, but when he left with the money, all he left behind were a few holes his workers had dug around Spencer’s foundation.

But that 1999 incident wasn’t the last for the 70-year-old retired schoolteacher and librarian. The next year, yet another contractor made an unsolicited visit to her door, offering to repave her driveway with spare concrete he had on hand.

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The job was to be done for $125. &uot;But when they came to collect the check, they gave me a bill for $925,&uot; Spencer said. &uot;He said it had taken more time and material that he had originally thought. I got taken twice.&uot;

That is why Spencer is glad that on Monday afternoon, the Louisiana House of Representatives is set to consider a bill that would make home improvement fraud a crime punishable by a $1,000 fine and six months in jail. But that is just for the first offense.

Any subsequent offense could be punishable by up to $10,000 and five years in jail. That penalty would also apply if the contract for home improvement exceeded $10,000 or if the person who entered the contract was a disabled person or was 60 years old or older.

Currently, home improvement fraud cases prosecuted in criminal courts fall under the state’s existing felony theft law, said Jimmy Darden, an investigator with the Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office.

But a law that specifically addresses home improvement fraud is greatly needed, Darden said.

Every spring, the sheriff’s office begins getting reports of contractor fraud.

&uot;We usually get six to 10 calls a year, but a lot go unreported because people are too embarrassed to report it,&uot;&160;Darden said, noting that many of the cases involve elderly people.

Darden even appeared before a House committee in Baton Rouge Wednesday to testify about the need for such a bill.