New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs Files Action Against Mercer County Home Improvement Contractor for Abandoning Home Improvement Projects, and Other Consumer Fraud Violations
NEWARK – The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs has filed an action against Robbinsville resident Charles L. Johnston, Jr., and his companies, Basements 4 Less Inc., Choice Home Improvements, LLC, and C.L.J. Home Improvements, Inc., for allegedly performing shoddy work, damaging customers' homes while performing work, leaving home improvement jobs unfinished, and numerous other consumer protection violations.
"When consumers spend money on home renovations, they rightfully expect to add value to their homes and gain pleasure from the upgrades," said Acting Attorney General Robert Lougy. "They don't expect to have their homes damaged by a contractor who then abandons the project and runs off with their money. We will not tolerate contractors that disregard the rights of homeowners and our consumer protection laws."
In a seven-count complaint filed in Mercer County Superior Court, the Division alleges Johnston and his companies violated the Consumer Fraud Act, the Contractors' Registration Act, the Contractor Registration Regulations, and the Home Improvement Regulations.
Johnston performed work for consumers that included remodeling basements, painting, electrical and masonry work, and installing household fixtures.
Between January 2012 and April 2016, Johnston allegedly deceived, misled, and/or defrauded 75 consumers in Mercer, Monmouth, Ocean, Somerset, Middlesex, and Burlington counties, by, among other things, taking money for jobs that he never finished and damaging some homes during the short time he spent on the jobs. Johnston attempted to hide his prior unconscionable business practices from potential customers by registering and operating multiple business entities under different names, according to the Complaint.
"It's bad enough when a contractor leaves a trail of unfinished projects and unhappy victims in his wake, but it's particularly egregious when he deliberately registers and operates under multiple names to continue defrauding customers without detection," said Steve Lee, Acting Director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. "We are pursuing every legal avenue to make sure that victimized homeowners are made whole and that significant civil penalties are imposed against dishonest contractors that violate the law."
The Complaint alleges that Johnston violated consumer protection laws through practices that include:
- Accepting payments, starting the home improvement projects, and then abandoning those projects.
- Providing consumers with contracts that didn't represent the true and final cost of the project.
- Doing substandard work and failing to make necessary corrective repairs.
- Performing work that failed to pass inspection.
- Charging consumers for additional work and/or materials not specified in the contract without prior notice.
- Taking money for project permits that were never obtained.
The Complaint against Johnston seeks consumer restitution, reimbursement of attorneys' fees and costs, and civil penalties for each statutory and regulatory violation committed by Johnston and his companies. It also seeks to vacate the corporate charters of Basements 4 Less Inc., and C.L.J. Home Improvements, Inc., and cancel the certificate of formation for Choice Home Improvements, LLC, and to permanently enjoin Johnston from owning or operating a home improvement business in New Jersey.
Investigator Lorretta Creggett in the Division of Consumer Affairs Office of Consumer Protection conducted the investigation of this matter.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse,
can file an online complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting
its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504- 6200.