Consumers warned about contractor disputes as home repair season kicks off

ABC7 I-Team Investigation
CHICAGO (WLS) -- As home repair season kicks off, Chicago officials are warning consumers about disputes with hired contractor.

In the last several months, city officials have been investigating complaints filed against almost 400 businesses - and more are expected as contracting season gets busy.

Armando Garza is just one consumer who is disappointed. He hired someone for a concrete job on the city's Southwest Side and now it's pitched inward and causes a big puddle at the end of the yard when it rains hard.

"He said that's the way it's go to stay, that's the way we poured it. I said, 'No, you have to fix it. It's not right.' The contract says if we are not happy with the job we don't have to pay the balance," Garza said.

And the concrete is already crumbling, despite the job being done less than two years ago. Garza filed a complaint with the Chicago's Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) Department.

"They didn't have a license, the company wasn't registered. So we went to court," Garza said.

Garza recently won a $5,400 judgement against the contractor, Zbigniew Nowobilski, who also faces thousands of dollars in city fines in the same case for consumer fraud and not having a business license.

Reached via phone, Nowobilski blamed any issues on subcontractors who he said he paid to do the concrete job. Also, he said he lost money because Garza didn't pay his remaining balance. The contractor said he disagrees with the judgement but that he will make payments.

"That is a great example of how this should work. We ask our residents, don't feel like you are out there alone. Call us, work with us because these problem businesses are pervasive. And once they've done it to you they are going to do it to 10 more people, and if we can stop them, we're going to go after them," said Rosa Escareno, the BACP commissioner.

Recently, Escareno showed the I-Team a large stack of court judgement records. She said the city helped get the judgements for consumers who filed 405 complaints against nearly as many contractors in the last year.

"These 400 complaints represent $5 million in judgements against these bad operators, in judgements alone," Escareno said.

However, the $5 million figure is only court judgements, and doesn't guarantee that the contractors have actually paid people back yet.

The BACP said it works with contractors to pay restitution and fines in payment plans to avoid businesses from going bankrupt.

Before hiring a contractor, check their record online and with the Better Business Bureau. Also, limit your first payment to only one third of the project and pay with a credit card.

"Number one is that you want references, you really want to talk to friends and family and see how they got good services from a particular business. Check to see if they have a license. Come to us and check, go to our website or simply ask them," Escareno said.


Illinois Attorney General information about contractor scams

Cook County State's Attorney's advice for consumer fraud

Better Business Bureau information about contractor scams
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