What to Know
Contractors in California cannot take more than $1,000 for a deposit before work begins
Always request multiple estimates for any contracting job
Report problems with a contractor to the California Contractors State License Board
The Duncan family condo needed some remodeling after a tenant recently moved out.
"Linoleum … painting … the kitchen pretty much had to be redone," said Keith Duncan.
The family did their homework and got several estimates, including a quote from Carpets and More in Vacaville.
"They have good reviews," Duncan said.
Ultimately, though, the Duncans chose a different company. Keith said his mother — who is in her 80’s — got confused.
"She sent off a check to Carpets and More for $24,000," he said. "They had not done anything. Because we did not use them."
Keith says he discovered the mistake a few weeks later after Carpets and More had already cashed the check. It was too late to stop payment, Duncan asked the company for a refund. It responded with a check.
"The check was returned for insufficient funds," Keith said. "It bounced."
Keith says Carpets and More then gave him a certified check. But not for $24,000.
It was for $12,000 — half what his mom sent them by mistake.
"She was quite upset," he said.
Keith says he repeatedly tried to collect the remaining $12,000, with no success.
"They will not respond to me," he said.
So, he contacted NBC Bay Area Responds. We called Carpets and More repeatedly over several months.
We, too, did not get a response.
Next, we went to the showroom. Owner mike alexander was on hand to address the Duncan family’s concerns.
"Well, I've already talked to him," Alexander said.
We pressed Alexander for answers about why the company cashed the $24,000 check, about where the money went and about why the Duncans were still waiting for a refund.
"I don't know what you want me to tell you," he said.
We pressed him on why it’s taken so long for them to get them their money.
"We've been struggling to pay them back. That's all I have to say," Alexander said.
The Contractors State License Board told us Carpets and More had an obligation to return the Duncans' full $24,000 as soon as Keith told them his mom sent the check by mistake. Alexander said the company might have cashed the check as a deposit — believing it was just about to start the Duncan job.
"We took a deposit for a job," he said.
If it was a deposit check, the state says it would have been illegal for carpets and more to accept a deposit of $24,000.
"They can require you to pay no more than ten percent or a $1,000 [whichever is less]," said Rick Lopes, a spokesman for the Contractors State License Board.
The CSLB encouraged Keith to file an official complaint, which could prompt a state investigation.
Lopes said Keith can also try another route: he can file a claim against the Carpets and More bond.
"All contractors are required to carry a $15,000 surety bond," Lopes said. "So there is a level of protection that you’re going to get with that if you do have a problem as well."
Keith is weighing that option — to finally settle the 365-day dispute over unit 806.
"It's unbelievable," he said.
He also hired an attorney who tried to broker a payment plan with Carpets and More. That step might have paid off. The same day this news story was scheduled for broadcast, Duncan wrote to say Carpets and More had just sent $3,000 of the $12,000 it owes.
Duncan expressed low expectations the business will pay in full.
"At this point, I don’t think anything would surprise me with these guys," he said.
It’s ironic that getting multiple bids for the condo job burned the Duncan family. Please, don’t let it dissuade you. It’s smart to get multiple estimates. Just make sure you‘re making payment to the right place.
And never give a home contractor more than $1,000 up front.
UPDATE, 5/14/2018: Three days after this story aired on NBC Bay Area, Keith Duncan contacted us to say his mother received the remainder of the $12,000 she was owed by Carpets and More, plus interest.