JACKSONVILLE— A roofing company that has scammed more than 70 Florida homeowners is desperately searching for a loophole which would allow them to continue exploiting new customers.
According to a report by Action News Jax, numerous homeowners have paid for but not received services from Carlson Enterprises, a roofing company in Jacksonville that has repeatedly taken deposits and essentially run with them.
Contractors are often allowed to get away with fraud simply because they enter into a contract with homeowners. | stock image
Although a temporary injunction by a Duval County judge has put a hold on the assets of the company and CEO Adolph Carlson, two other construction companies, also owned by Carlson — Kingfish Construction LLC and Blue Water Builders Florida LLC— have not been stopped from doing business.
Zachary Roth of Anbacher Law in Jacksonville said the formation of new companies has given Carlson an escape, from being prohibited from conducting business in the state.
"Because each corporation or company has a distinct legal existence, the fact of common ownership alone does not necessarily implicate all companies or corporations in the actions of the others," Roth told Florida Record. "So long as the companies or corporations maintain their separate legal existence and are appropriately qualified to operate as contractor’s with the state, it can be very difficult to take broader action than that taken against the entity actually involved."
Peter Vujin, a Miami attorney, said these new businesses are little more than "vehicles" for Carlson to stay in business.
Additionally, Carlson was, according to Vujin, well aware that he was breaching the universal commercial code's general provisions for obligation of good faith, which states: "Every contract or duty within this code imposes an obligation of good faith in its performance and enforcement."
"This statute means that once anyone enters into a contract, it has to be with the intention of performing it. Carlson obviously did not do this — he took the money, but performed no work," Vujin told Florida Record. "It's typical in Florida because once two parties sign a contract, the matter becomes a civil matter — and they all know it."
Vujin said once a homeowner has signed a contract, he or she is severely limited in what they can do to report fraud against a contractor, due to the nature of a contractual agreement.
"The police can't go just arrest the contractor because the signature on the contract does away with the element of of fraud," Vujin said. "Carlson appears to exhibit the intent to defraud, an essential element of fraud, but he covered himself with the contract, so as per Florida law, he is immune [for now] from criminal prosecution."
Roth noted these types of scams are common in Florida.
"Unfortunately, this happens more than one may think," he said. "We have seen numerous instances of contractors accepting payments and either performing no work, performing substandard work that actually causes further damage to the property, or failing to pay subcontractors, resulting in liens against the property, even in the case of full payment by the owner. These matters make investigation before hiring any contractor all the more important."
For homeowners who have been burnt before or those who are aware of the risk of scams, remaining informed about these schemes and remaining thorough in researching companies can go a long way, said Katherine A. Kiziah of Searcy, Denney, Scarola, Barnhart and Shipley PC in West Palm Beach.
"Scams involving the home especially go up after a natural disaster, because the homeowners are vulnerable and need someone to come fix their house," Kiziah told Florida Record. "The most important thing you can do if you're looking for someone to do work on your home is find someone you know who has had similar work done and is satisfied with the work. A personal recommendation goes above everything else."
Kiziah noted that rather than just Googling the company name, homeowners should also research the company's owners and try to dig up whatever they can on those individuals and their history of operating businesses.
"The Better Business Bureau is a huge resource and they communicate with the state's Attorney General and the Federal Trade Commission, so they know what is going on pretty soon after lawsuits are filed," Kiziah said.
And though Carlson's two newer companies still appear to be flying under the radar, Kiziah believes there is still a chance they will be flagged if and when complaints start to roll in against them specifically.
"There is always discovery that happens during the lawsuit, so there is always hope that these new companies can get added to the lawsuit," Kiziah said.