Homeowners out thousands after SWFL contractor didn’t deliver

Reporter: Sara Girard
Published: Updated:
Credit: WINK News.

Customers of one Southwest Florida building manufacturer are fed up with the company after they say the business’s owner took their cash and did not deliver.

Robin Meyer was looking forward to building her dream house on Pine Island.

“It’s our forever home, our retirement home,” she said.

More than a year and a half later, all she has is a slab.

“We chose New Panel Homes because he [Brian Bishop] promised a quick build.” Meyer said. “And he [Brian Bishop] has delivered the exact opposite. No build.”

New Panel Homes, ran by Brian Bishop, advertises structural insulated panel (SIP) homes. He manufactures the energy efficient panel “kits” at his shop in Englewood. But Bishop has an extensive history of lawsuits against him and his companies, ranging from unpaid subcontractors to work done wrong. And he was arrested in 2016 for felony “scheme to defraud over $50,000.”

He’s in a pre-trial intervention program to pay back $100,000. Court documents show, he missed multiple monthly payments last year. Meyer did not know any of this, until the panels she bought never showed up.

“Before I knew it the money was gone and we still had nothing to show for it,” she said.

Meyer signed a contract with Bishop back in August 2017 and said months of rejected permits and other delays followed. Still, Meyer said she managed to pay him almost $50,000 to get the job done.

“He kind of led us to believe that if we paid more money that would speed it up,” she explained. “And I invested our retirement savings. Unfortunately, picked the wrong contractor.”

Catherine Heart feels the same way. She also hired Bishop back in January 2016, only this time she agreed to be owner-builder on the project.

“I was convinced by Brian Bishop and his wife that we were going to be able to walk through this project, they were going to help us, and we were going to get this house built,” Heart said.

She said she had to hire a lawyer to get Bishop to continue the job.

“I was trapped.” She said. “I could not get Brian to follow through on any of his promises.”

It is now nearly three years later and Heart said Bishop took almost $70,000 for a shell of a home she said he didn’t build according to plan.

These issues even cross state lines.

Don Dawson lives in Fairview, North Carolina and ordered panels from Bishop in July 2017.

“He talks, ‘oh they’re right here, we’ll set up the schedule tomorrow, a delivery,’ ” Dawson said. “Then I won’t hear from him for a week, or 10 days, or longer.”

Heavy rains put off the delivery at first, but Dawson said he has been waiting nine months since he gave Bishop the OK. To this day, he has not seen any panels.

“We really don’t trust him anymore, after all this time,” he said.

WINK News called Bishop. He would not agree to a sit-down interview, but for more than 90 minutes he gave explanations for all of these cases. Among his excuses: timing issues, design changes, and an array of health problems for him and his wife.

His clients say they have gotten a lot of excuses too. WINK News received a copy of an email from Bishop, explaining that he could not talk with Dawson because his cat was hit by a car.

“I’m not sure what’s real and what’s not,” Dawson said.

Bishop said he is willing to work things out, and even consider refunds, if his customers cooperate.

Dawson, Heart, and Meyer said they have all sent certified letters asking for refunds to no avail.

Meyer reported her situation to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, which is investigating. She said she has also been in contact with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, but they cannot confirm an investigation.

Consumer Protections

If you start to have contractor trouble, lawmakers in Tallahassee have approved a bill that would give consumers more protections.

It is part of a general public safety bill and it gives more power to consumers against contractors who fail to perform within a specific time period. Florida House Rep. Mike Grant sponsored one version of the bill, and said this will make it simpler to charge contractors with crimes.

“My legislation requires that contractors, within a certain amount of time, have to file for a permit and begin construction.” Rep. Grant said. “And if they don’t do that, if they get a certified letter from the owner of the house, they have to do that within 30 days, otherwise that in and of itself gives a state prosecutor the ability to file fraud charges.”

The public safety bill is now waiting for the governor’s signature. However, Rep. Grant said if it does become law, this would not apply retroactively to the situations above.

Where to complain:

· Your local building department

· Your local sheriff’s office or police department

· Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

· Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation

· Florida Attorney General

· Better Business Bureau

Checklist: Before You Hire a Contractor

Download: Checklist

The Federal Trade Commission recommends:

1. Get Estimates

Once you have narrowed your options, get written estimates from several firms. Do not automatically choose the lowest bidder. Ask for an explanation to see if there is a reason for the difference in price.

2. Ask Questions

How many projects like mine have you completed in the last year?

Ask for a list so you can see how familiar the contractor is with your type of project.

Will my project require a permit?

Most states and localities require permits for building projects, even for simple jobs like decks. A competent contractor will get all the necessary permits before starting work on your project. You may want to choose a contractor familiar with the permitting process in your county, city, or town.

May I have a list of references?

A contractor should be able to give you names, addresses, and phone numbers of at least three clients with projects like yours. Ask each client how long ago the project was and whether it was completed on time. Was the client satisfied? Were there any unexpected costs? Did workers show up on time and clean up after finishing the job? You also could tell the contractor that you’d like to visit jobs in progress.

What types of insurance do you carry?

Contractors should have:

· personal liability

· worker’s compensation

· property damage coverage

Ask for copies of insurance certificates, and make sure they are current, or you could be held liable for any injuries and damages that occur during the project.

Will you be using subcontractors on this project?

If so, make sure the subcontractors have current insurance coverage and licenses, too, if required.

To find builders, remodelers, and related providers in your area that are members of the National Association of Home Builders, visit nahb.org. To find detailed information about a builder, service provider, or remodeler in your area, contact your local home builders association.

3. Understand Your Payment Options

Do not pay cash. For smaller projects, you can pay by check or credit card. Many people arrange financing for larger projects.

Try to limit your down payment

Some state laws limit the amount of money a contractor can request as a down payment. Contact your state or local consumer agency to find out the law in your area.

Try to make payments during the project contingent upon completion of defined amounts of work

This way, if the work is not going according to schedule, the payments to your contractor also are delayed.

4. Get a Written Contract

Contract requirements vary by state. Even if your state does not require a written agreement, ask for one. It should be clear and concise and include the who, what, where, when, and cost of your project. Before you sign a contract, make sure it includes:

· the contractor’s name, address, phone, and license number (if required)

· an estimated start and completion date

· the payment schedule for the contractor, subcontractors, and suppliers

· the contractor’s obligation to get all necessary permits

· how change orders are handled. A change order is a written authorization to the contractor to make a change or addition to the work described in the original contract, and could affect the project’s cost and schedule.

· a detailed list of all materials including each product’s color, model, size, and brand. If some materials will be chosen later, the contract should say who is responsible for choosing each item and how much money is budgeted for it (this is also known as the “allowance”).

· information about warranties covering materials and workmanship, with names and addresses of who is honoring them — the contractor, distributor, or manufacturer. The length of the warranty period and any limitations also should be spelled out.

· what the contractor will and would not do. For example, is site clean-up and trash hauling included in the price? Ask for a “broom clause” that makes the contractor responsible for all clean-up work, including spills and stains.

· any promises made during conversations or calls. If they do not remember, you may be out of luck — or charged extra.

· a written statement of your right to cancel the contract within three business days if you signed it in your home or at a location other than the seller’s permanent place of business

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