LAW AS OF 1/21/20: A4529/S3191 – Helps those defrauded by contractors during rebuilding. It would require the state Department of Community Affairs to work with the Division of Consumer Affairs to develop standards for determining if fraud or theft by deception has occurred. It also would specify what documents are relevant in that determination, instead of the current system which requires a charging document to have your grant adjusted.
Angel and Fe applied for the RREM grant program in order to rehabilitate and mitigate their home which was substantially damaged after Sandy. They were accepted in June 2013, and began the long process. When Angel signed a contract with the builder he chose, he remembers a big red flag went up when he went over the contract and couldn’t find the builder’s contractor license or insurance information. ‘Looking back, I realize that there was supposed to have been a meeting between the builder, the project manager, and me but that never happened.’
Their family vacated their home on January 1, 2016, but the contractor didn’t begin disconnecting utilities until March, 2016, and didn’t begin working until April of that same year. By June, Angel started to see serious problems with the quality of work. When Angel attempted to talk to his contractor about these issues, he refused and referred him to someone else. Angel then called his project manager who told him about the RREM Fraud Policy and to file a report through various channels including the local police.
Beginning in November of 2016, Angel went to the police four times to report his contractor, but each time the police told him they couldn’t do anything about it because they believed it was a civil matter, not criminal. After months of waiting, Angel hired a private house inspector and an engineer who concluded that elevation and foundation work had been done so poorly that it would have to be completely redone. Finally, Angel and members of the New Jersey Organizing Project met with the chief of police and the mayor of Ventnor. With all parties working together, Angel was able to get his charging document two weeks later. RREM sent an inspector to determine the damage left behind by the contractor.
Angel and Fe are still working to rebuild and get home. If they had been able to use their Engineering report or other documents to show fraud, they might already be home. This legislation is important because it helps families who are still stuck.