New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs Files Complaint Against Ocean County Contractor Alleging Fraud in Connection with Rebuilding and Repair of Sandy-Damaged Homes
Action Alleges Multiple Violations of Consumer Protection Laws and Failure to Complete Work on 14 Properties After Being Paid with Federal Funds
NEWARK – Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino and the Division of Consumer Affairs have filed a complaint alleging that a contractor doing business in Ocean County used deceptive practices to obtain more than $750,000 in federal relief funds from 14 homeowners who sought to have their damaged homes rebuilt, elevated and/or repaired after Superstorm Sandy.
The Complaint alleges that Lawson Renovations, LLC d/b/a "J and N Construction and Roofing," "J & N Construction and Roofing, LLC," and a variety of other similar names (collectively, "J & N"), owned and operated by Jamie Lynn Lawson, violated the Contractors' Registration Act, the Contractor Registration Regulations, the Home Elevation Regulations, the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, the Regulations Governing Home Improvement Practices and the Regulations Governing General Advertising.
Specifically, J & N allegedly took money from consumers to renovate, rebuild and/or elevate Sandy-damaged homes and then failed to begin work, failed to maintain the required commercial general liability insurance coverage while working on consumers' homes, and/or abandoned unfinished projects without returning for weeks, months or at all, according to the Complaint, which was filed in Superior Court in Ocean County.
"For some New Jersey residents, the devastation suffered during Superstorm Sandy is not over. We will not tolerate unscrupulous contractors who compound that suffering through fraud," said Steve Lee, Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs.
The consumers identified in the Complaint received money from the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) Program and the Low-to-Moderate Income (LMI) Program, administered by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, to pay for construction work on Sandy-damaged homes. The RREM Program is the state's largest rebuilding initiative.
The action against J & N is the seventh filed by the State against home improvement contractors alleging Sandy-related fraud in connection with the RREM and or LMI programs.
"While Superstorm Sandy provoked an outpouring of generosity among New Jerseyans, it also elicited fraudulent activity, including contractor fraud. This type of fraud can significantly erode storm-impacted families' financial security and emotional well-being," said DCA Commissioner Charles A. Richman. "For this reason, my Department remains a committed partner with the Attorney General's Office to thwart dishonest contractors and help Sandy-affected families get their rebuilding projects back on track."
The Complaint alleges that J & N was paid more than $1 million in RREM funds for home elevation and improvement projects for 13 homeowners. Two of those homeowners also paid J & N a total of more than $82,000 of their own money for the projects. The work on projects was either not performed at all or only partially completed. In addition, J & N was paid $38,500 with LMI funds for another home elevation and improvement project that was not performed at all.
The Complaint, among other things, also alleges that:
- J & N failed to advertise its services properly on its website by not including its state-issued home improvement contractor registration number, its home elevation contractor registration and new home builders' registration number.
- J & N's website claimed the company had "an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau" when it actually had an "F" rating with the Bureau as of November 3, 2016.
- Contracts utilized by J & N did not include the address of the sales representative or agent who solicited or negotiated the contracts, the registration number of the contractor, the dates or time period on which the work was to commence and by which the work was to be completed, the terms and conditions affecting contract price and any warranty or guarantee.
- The contracts also did not include state-mandated "Notice to Consumer" cancellation language and the toll-free telephone numbers provided by the Division for consumers making inquiries concerning contractors.
- The contractor failed to secure proper building and construction permits, failed to respond to consumers' calls and texts into the status of their projects, failed to perform work after receiving payment and failed to give notice regarding delays in construction.
The complaint seeks consumer restitution, the disgorging of federal money paid to the contractor, civil penalties, attorneys' fees and investigative costs. In addition, the state is seeking to permanently revoke the contractor's state registrations and forbid J & N and Lawson from operating a construction business in New Jersey.
Investigators Joseph Iasso and Jared O'Cone of the Division of Consumer Affairs' Office of Consumer Protection conducted the investigation.
Deputy Attorney General Jesse J. Sierant, of the Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section within the Division of Law, is representing the State in this action.
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.