SCOTTSDALE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- Jeff Geller's renovation project on his home in Scottsdale stalled soon after demo day.
"Progress was doing great, and then he started putting things back together. It wasn't so great," Geller told 3 On Your Side.
The homeowner says there were numerous mistakes and missing building materials that he had already paid his contractor to purchase.
"All of this money that he had gotten to buy supplies disappeared," Geller said. "All you have to do is connect with one shady guy, and they'll take you for everything you've got."
Geller hired Your Fraction Solutions, LLC to do the renovation beginning in January. The owner, Adam Campbell, was available for the job when other contractors said they couldn't get started until March at the earliest. Geller paid about 85% of the nearly $90,000 invoice upfront, and despite a lack of progress, he says Campbell kept asking for more money.
"My mistake is I found someone who said he was available in a reasonable amount of time, and I booked him," Geller said.
The website for Your Fraction Solutions, LLC says the company specializes in handyman services and cleaning. Geller believed Campbell was a licensed contractor, but he is not, according to state records and his own admission. According to Arizona law, contractors must have a license to perform any work over $1,000 or require a permit.
"I was dumbfounded. I had no idea," Geller said. "Everybody is scrambling for supplies. Everybody is trying to lock in whatever contractor they want."
When reached by phone, Campbell said he never claimed to be a licensed contractor but acknowledged he should not have taken the job. Campbell also claimed he accomplished $90,000 worth of work on the house and said it was impossible to complete the work outlined in Geller's invoice because of changes added to the project. He declined to answer questions on camera.
3 On Your Side wanted to know if the recent construction boom is making more unlicensed contractors come out of the woodwork. We requested a year's worth of data from the Arizona Registrar of Contractors. It reveals the number of weekly complaints to the agency has remained relatively steady, hitting a weekly high of 127 cases in the first week of March 2021.
"It's good news for us," said Jeff Fleetham, the director of the Registrar of Contractors. "We get about between 6,000 and 7,000 complaints a year, and that's been pretty much the same." According to Fleetham, approximately two-thirds of complaints involve licensed contractors.
"If our investigators say this kind of work doesn't meet standards, you must repair this, and the contractor doesn't fix it, then it will go to a hearing, and the judge may rule that their license is suspended," Fleetham explained.
Contractors' licenses can also be revoked, and homeowners may be able to get some money back through the state's recovery fund. For complaints involving unlicensed contractors, relief is much tougher to come by for homeowners.
"They may be lucky and get something back, but I would suggest the chances are zero," Fleetham said.
In another recent complaint, an unlicensed builder in Flagstaff pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of contracting without a license. The homeowners had paid more than $280,000, and the project was left with $200,000 worth of work still to do. The homeowners were not awarded a cent.
"We investigate, and if it crosses over into a criminal aspect, then our investigators package those and pass them off to a prosecutor," Fleetham said.
In Geller's case, Scottsdale police say no criminal charges have been filed, adding, "It was deemed to be a civil issue between the two parties." The Registrar of Contractors is still investigating.
To protect yourself from unscrupulous contractors, the agency says you should get three estimates in writing, confirm the contractor you choose has a license, ensure the license covers the type of work you need, and get everything in writing. That means you have to make sure your contract includes specific expectations. For example, is the cost of permits included in the price, and is there a clear payment schedule?
Check a license - https://roc.az.gov/contractor-search
File a complaint - https://roc.az.gov/file-complaint
Geller says he will eventually get all of the work done on his home, and this time, the people doing the work will be licensed.
"What was supposed to be a 10-week project is probably going to be about ten months," Geller said, estimating the mess would ultimately cost him an extra $76,000.
According to the AZ Registrar of Contractors, there has been a 10% spike this year in the number of applicants for licenses. The agency says it is processing those applications 20% faster "due to process improvements and availability of an online portal."