Dozens of consumers complained about Jeremey Lawson and his businesses
(DES MOINES, Iowa) A Polk County judge today ordered an Appanoose County contractor to pay more than $100,000 in restitution and set court-ordered conditions for future contracting or home repair work.
Through a consent judgment filed in Polk County District Court, District Court Judge Douglas F. Staskal ordered Jeremey Lawson, 39, of Moulton, to pay $102,000 in restitution to 25 consumers.
The Consumer Protection Division reviewed 40 complaints against Lawson and his Moulton and Bloomfield-based businesses, including 24 filed with the division. Lawson's current and former business names include Sturdy Buildings, Strong Structures, Lawson Building Components and J&C Buildings. Of those complaints, a majority alleged that Lawson did no work after collecting substantial or partial up-front payments for home construction or renovation projects. In other cases, consumers alleged that Lawson failed to finish projects or did substandard work.
Attorney General Tom Miller alleged that Lawson violated Iowa’s Consumer Fraud Act through misrepresentations he made to consumers, including:
- Claiming he could legally sell home repair or contracting services even though he was not properly registered as a contractor;
- That he would start or complete a project within a certain time frame;
- That he would begin or complete a project after collecting payments;
- His history of civil judgments and criminal convictions.
Miller alleged further violations based on Lawson’s failure to perform work within industry standards or project specifications, as well Lawson’s use of consumer’s money for purposes other than their own project.
Miller also alleged that Lawson violated Iowa’s Door-to-Door Sales Act by repeatedly failing to properly notify consumers of their rights to cancel contractor and home repair services, and failing to honor valid cancellation notices.
Lawson denied the allegations but agreed to the consent judgment to settle the matter with the Consumer Protection Division.
In addition to ordering the restitution, the consent judgment prohibits Lawson from certain practices, including:
- Requesting or accepting payment for home improvement, contracting or materials payments until the work is completed;
- Misrepresenting the time frame of when he will start or finish a project;
- Not completing a project in a timely manner;
- Failing to perform home improvement or contracting work in a professional and “competent” manner that complies with state and local laws and ordinances;
- Failing to comply with the Iowa Door-to-Door Sales Act;
- Doing business under any name other than Lawson’s true surname, unless his business name is either incorporated with the Iowa Secretary of State or registered as a trade name with the appropriate county recorder;
- Failing to disclose his true legal name and contact information;
- Making false representations to consumers;
- Failing to register as a “contractor” with the Iowa Division of Labor;
- Failing to respond to an Attorney General’s inquiry.
Tips to finding a good contractor and avoiding home repair scams and disputes:
- Check out and interview contractors before you sign a contract or pay any money. Request local references and contact them! Check on complaints with the Attorney General’s office (515-281-5926, or 888-777-4590 outside of the Des Moines area) and check with the Better Business Bureau. Check to see if a contractor has been sued by unsatisfied customers (or sued them) -- go to www.iowacourts.state.ia.us. Check on a contractor’s registration and bonding (which doesn’t guarantee quality of work) at www.iowaworkforce.org/labor. Ask for a copy of the contractor's liability insurance certificate. Be wary of a person or company not listed in the local telephone directory.
- Get several written estimates, choose the best, and get a contract in writing (and don’t forget to read it!). Before work begins, agree on a written contract detailing terms including the work to be done, the brand and/or the specifications of the materials to be used, the price, who is responsible for permits, and that all change orders must be in writing. Put start and completion dates in writing, and the remedies if the contractor fails to meet them. (Example: the contract could be nullified if the contractor doesn't start on time.) If you’re filing an insurance claim to cover the costs of damages, negotiate the details with your insurance company directly and not through a contractor. It’s usually safer and a better deal to obtain financing through your local bank or credit union, rather than a contractor. If you sign a contract somewhere other than the contractor's regular place of business, such as at your home, you have three business days to cancel the contract without penalty. The seller must provide you a written notice in duplicate of your right to cancel.
- Avoid paying large sums or the entire job up-front. If you need to make a partial advance payment for materials, make your check out to the supplier and the contractor. Insist on a "mechanic's lien waiver" in case the contractor fails to pay others for materials or labor.
- To cancel a sale, sign and date one copy of the cancellation form and mail it to the address given for cancellation. Make sure that the envelope is postmarked by midnight of the third business day following the purchase, or hand-deliver the notice. (Weekends and holidays do not count as business days.) A certified letter is proof of when you mailed your request, and a signed receipt is proof if you hand-delivered your notice.
- If you used a credit card for your purchase, you can contact your credit card company and challenge the charge within 60 days after the date the first bill was mailed to you. Keep in mind that a debit card offers you fewer protections than a credit card.
- Avoid the high pressure pitch. If you’re feeling pressured to sign a contract, agree to a service or buy something you had not planned on buying, tell the seller “no.”
- Watch for scams at your doorstep, where someone shows up and says your driveway needs repaving, or your house needs new shingles – and they “just happen to have materials left over” at a big discount. Just say no to a deal that is based on “extra materials,” someone demanding an immediate decision, or a contractor who only accepts cash.
- Contact local law enforcement officials and the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division if you are victimized by a door-to-door scam or you do not receive a refund you requested.