West Virginia Attorney General wins $256K judgment against contractor
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -The West Virginia Attorney General’s Office has won a $256,000 judgment against a Kanawha County contractor and a permanent injunction which prevents him from doing any future work in the area of home improvement.
Court records show that the AG’s office received 21 formal complains against Benjamin Burns who was doing business as Brenco Construction or Brenco Home Solutions, The Conards Builders and Prestige Builders, LLC.
The monetary award represents the total Burns collected from 16 affected consumers.
The victims who all live in Kanawha, Clay and Putnam counties were charged a total of $301,696 by Burns, which averages about $11,186.93 for each complaint.
The lawsuit filed by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey in Kanawha Circuit Court in May 2019 says Burns collected payment but delivered substandard work and in some cases no work at all.
According to state records, 44-year-old Burns has never held a contracting, plumbing or electrical license with the West Virginia Division of Labor.
He also did not possess a license or certificate issued by the State Fire Marshal.
Many of the contracts signed between Burns and victims did not notify them about their three day right to cancel.
Several victims say they were referred to Burns through Home Advisor.
Court records include receipts, copies of checks and text messages of confirmation of funds.
In several instances, Burns also failed to begin or complete work by the date promised.
One woman told WSAZ, she later learned the liability insurance policy Burns provided her, expired before the work on her home began.
“I was so furious,” said Kasi Withrow of St. Albans. “It was awful. He’s a fast talker. He wants you to believe every word he says, he’s smooth.”
Kasi had hired a different contractor for the work on her property, but the individual passed away before he could complete the job. She searched for someone to do the work on social media and was recommended to contact Benjamin Burns. He showed up the next day and said he could finish the project and stay on her budget.
“At the time, I felt that we were very vulnerable due to the circumstances with our contractor passing away, we felt panicked,” said Withrow.
Since her home insurance wouldn’t cover poor workmanship, she had to wait for a storm to cause damage to her roof in order for it to get fixed.
“I called him and I said you know, I was sitting in my attic at 3 in the morning crying with water pouring into my attic space after the roof he had put on,” said Withrow.
She paid him more than $8,000 in total to finish her deck and repair her roof. A building inspector told her the roof wasn’t salvageable. After leaving her with substandard work, she told him not to return to her property and did not pay him the rest of the money. She says he cashed her initial check, the day she signed the contract.
“He wasted no time whatsoever. He was going to the beach honey,” said Withrow.
After paying Burns $44,000, another homeowner contacted the city of Hurricane’s Building Code Enforcement Unit.
After an inspection from a city code official he learned that there were now multiple building code violations and the work would need to be redone.
Burns was served at least three cease and desist orders in the same neighborhood in Hurricane.
Another couple told WSAZ, they were worried about their families safety after the experience and have since installed a security system.
“The most concerning part to me is that this guy puts himself out that he’s so charismatic which is why I think he can so easily take advantage of people and he was around my kids,” said Sean Courtney.
He and his wife were looking to remodel their bathroom. They paid Burns $9,000 and he took apart the space, stripping it down to the studs.
Once the city of Hurricane realized he was operating without a license or permit, he was told to stop work, leaving the project unfinished. The Courtney’s had to hire another company and pay an additional $15,000 to complete the project.
“Once you start putting the puzzle pieces together you can see and trace the path of how none of this makes sense and matches up,” said Jessica Courtney.
The victims now hoping their loss will serve as a lesson to others, on knowing your rights, checking and verifying someone’s background, before letting them into your home.
“Before you hire any contractor go to your city building and get that list of approved contractors and if they’re not on it, don’t hire them,” said Sean Courtney.
The court also awarded the state civil penalties and attorney fees, the amount of which will be determined at a later date.
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