Friday, September 21, 2018
News Roundup

Unlicensed contractor accused of faking death triggers policy change at Pinellas licensing board

The unlicensed contractor accused of faking his death to avoid angry homeowners has triggered an immediate change in policy at the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board.

On Monday, the agency's interim executive director Gay Lancaster said the agency will acknowledge to consumers that they have received their complaint within one business day. That will also start the clock for conducting investigations sooner, she added.

The impetus for that change is the April 4 complaint filed by Glenn and Judith Holland.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Lawsuit: Florida contractor fakes death to dodge angry homeowners.

For more than two months, the Hollands wondered if the licensing board would investigate their complaint against Marc Anthony Perez. He was the contractor who promised to renovate their Seminole retirement home, according to the couple's lawsuit, but instead rendered it uninhabitable and left them homeless when they tried to move in on Dec. 14.

When they tried to contact Perez, the couple said, they got a text back saying he had died.

Perez, in fact, was not dead. Now he is being sued.

Before the Hollands turned to the courts they first went to the licensing board.

Except they heard nothing from the agency. Last week the Tampa Bay Times asked the licensing board about their complaint. The agency said it had received no such complaint.

But the agency's interim leader said learned Friday that the board did get the Hollands' complaint.

"I was embarrassed on two fronts," Lancaster said Monday, "that the electronic file had no record and that we are so backlogged that we have to find the file in a stack on someone's desk."

A frequent critique of the troubled agency is it often doesn't provide information to homeowners about their complaints against shoddy contractors. The agency has been under scrutiny after the Tampa Bay Times wrote a series of stories raising questions about how the agency operates and how it treats consumers and contractors.

The Hollands said they were never told if the agency acted on their complaints, or dismissed them. Neither they nor their attorney knew that the licensing board issued Perez two citations for unlicensed contracting.

The agency's interim leader vowed that it will work with the county's Consumer Protection office and state authorities to investigate the Hollands' complaints about Perez.

Lancaster, a former county administrator tapped to restore credibility, said the licensing board still has "a long way to go to improve our processes" and regain the public's trust.

"We are diligently working on eliminating the case backlog and instituting new time standards," she said, "as well as quickly acknowledging the receipt of complaints in writing."

The Times has also reported about numerous problems with the agency's electronic tracking system. It has information on more than 22,000 complaints since 2001, but Lancaster has called it "badly antiquated."

For example, hundreds of cases list no indication that the agency collected fines. In hundreds of others, no final resolution listed at all. To fix the problem, Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel wants the county to spend $744,000 to build a new tracking system for the agency.

The Hollands said they felt they had no choice but to file a lawsuit against Perez on June 1, accusing him of misrepresenting himself as a licensed contractor when he agreed to renovate their kitchen and bathroom. The Hollands said it cost $15,000 to fix their house after he left the project, on top of the $7,600 they said had already paid.

The couple found their home in shambles on Dec. 14. Judith Holland texted Perez and said she got this response 14 minutes later:

"This is Marc's daughter, dad passed away on the 7th of December in a car accident. Sorry."

Glenn Holland later spent weeks staking out Perez's home and found him to be alive.

The couple's attorney, Daniel Moody, said Perez is avoiding being served with the lawsuit. Moody said his process server attempted to deliver it Saturday and Monday, and found that Perez had emptied his driveway of three vehicles and a boat.

Contact Mark Puente at [email protected] or (727) 892-2996. Follow @MarkPuente

TAMPA BAY TIMES INVESTIGATION: THE PINELLAS COUNTY CONSTRUCTION LICENSING BOARD

RELATED: More trouble for the troubled Pinellas construction licensing board: It's running out of money

RELATED: For now, Pinellas County Commission won't loan any money to keep construction licensing board open

EDITORIAL: Editorial: Too much power, too little openness at Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board



 
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