Back in March I wrote a post about homeowners getting sued for bad reviews on Angieâ€™s List and have been wondering what happened … I hadn’t seen any follow up stories until reading Eric Goldman’s Technology & Marketing Law blog. Since then I’ve found more info and this post has been appropriately updated.
To recap, home improvement contractor Stephen C. Sieber ( SCS Contracting Group ) launched multi-million dollar defamation lawsuits against 2 homeowners who wrote negative reviews (with F ratings) on Angie’s List, as originally published in this Washington Post story.
So what happened? According to the recent John Kelly article, Sieber dropped the lawsuits against the home owners. The lawsuits (Sieber v. Mattera and Sieber v. Hammock ) were settled and dismissed without prejudice a month after filing meaning that they agreed to settle but without setting any precedents. Sieber could technically sue the homeowners again for the same reason. From answers.com:
A plaintiff is not subsequently barred from suing the same defendant on the same cause of action when a court grants a dismissal without prejudice of his or her case. Such a dismissal operates to terminate the case. It is not, however, an ultimate disposition of the controversy on the merits, but rather it is usually based upon procedural errors that do not substantially harm the defendant’s rights. It effectively treats the matter as if the lawsuit had never been commenced, but it does not relieve a plaintiff of the duty of complying with the statute of limitations, the time limit within which his or her action must be commenced. A dismissal without prejudice is granted in response to a notice of dismissal, stipulations, or a court order.
Meanwhile, Monica Hammock’s $83,000 civil lawsuit against Stephen Sieber for damage done during her home renovation is still ongoing.
Interestingly, it seems that Sieber has been representing himself in the proceedings as his lawyer is listed as “PRO SE”. Maybe business has been a bit slow lately? Lawyers are pretty expensive.
Sieber wasn’t going to initially sue Angie’s List (as reported in the Washington Post) but ended up doing so for “malicious interference”. He was upset with the “consumer alert” Angie’s List sent out about him and charges that it
“was used solely as a public relations ploy to gain more market exposure and revenue for Defendants, at the expense of the business and reputation of SCS Contracting Group and Stephen C. Sieber personally.”
“I’m standing up for all the service providers who this will not happen to, ever.”
You can see the full details of the lawsuit at www.angiegotsued.com.
Several Angie’s List principals were named as defendants in the suit (including Angie Hicks herself) but they were subsequently dropped. Sieber is still suing Brownstone Publishing however; Brownstone “does business as” Angie’s List. You can monitor the online court records by going to:
and searching by case number.
- Sieber v. Mattera – Case # 2007 CA 002063 B
- Sieber v. Hammock – Case # 2007 CA 001726 B
- Hammock v. Sieber – Case # 2006 CA 006940 B – pending
- Sieber v. Brownstone Publishing -Case # 2007 CA 002549 – pending
News earlier this week from Connecticut’s Department of Consumer Protection. The DCP’s 7th sting operation netted 150 unregistered contractors. 10 other contractors were cited for illegal contracts or contract language violations.
The unregistered contractors will be notified by mail of their violations, pay $500 in fines, and have to register with the state according to the Connecticut Post. The Post article also raises some valid concerns:
That so many were caught is a sign consumers need to be wary when hiring contractors, according to consumer protection officials and business leaders. But, they added, the very regulations being violated might also be driving up the costs for legitimate businesses and opening up the opportunity for a sort of black market of home improvement services.
But the last word should go to DCP Commissioner Jerry Farrell Jr.:
â€œThese operations also serve as a reminder to consumers that while the Department administers the Home Improvement Guaranty Fund which provides up to $15,000 to victimized consumers, the money is only available to homeowners who have used a registered contractor. That is why it is so important to verify your contractorâ€™s registration before signing any contract or giving them any money.â€
Props: The Connecticut Post.
Read the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection press release.
Pennsylvania has new legislation in process to establish better consumer protection for homeowners.
- a state-wide home improvement contractor database
- written contracts required for all jobs over $500
- the scope and cost of work be set out in the contract and clearly understood by the customer
- makes home-improvement fraud a criminal offense
- with stiffer penalties for scammers who target seniors
Although receiving senate passage is promising, the bill won’t become law until approved by the House of Representatives and Governor Ed Rendell.
Pennsylvanians should also note the gotchas:
For a contract to be enforceable against a customer, it would have to be signed by the customer and dated, and disclose the approximate time frame of the work and materials to be used, as well as the specifications and description of the work. It would also have to include the total sales price.
In addition, a contract would be voided if it has a clause that releases the contractor from building code requirements or liability, or that strips the customer of legal rights.
I love New York. The New York State Consumer Protection Board’s Home Improvement Initiative is on. The CPB hopes to better protect consumers while encouraging opportunities for contractors through a multi-step process.
Phase one involves online surveys for both homeowners and home improvement contractors plus making a comprehensive hire-a contractor tips complete with model contract package available online. Phase two, the public hearings, are now in progress.
Watch the video report or read the source story on News 10 Now. Plus another news report on Channel 9.
Read about New York’s Home Improvement Initiative on the New York State Consumer Protection Board website or call the Board directly at 1-800-697-1220. You can still have your say – take the CPB Homeowner Survey online. If you are a home improvement contractor, you may want to take the Contractor Survey.
I do admire the CPB for the effort. But if I was a contractor, I might not be enamored with the Contractor Survey questions which are all about qualifications / credentials; the survey reads like a reference check more than a way for contractors to join in a constructive discussion on how to improve the situation. What contractor in his right mind is going to put down he’s an unlicensed contractor then his name and address in case they want to contact him??
But it’s the thought that counts right?
While researching hiring home improvement contractors, I stumbled on this insightful online video featuring Mike Holmes of Holmes on Homes on CBC Marketplace, a Canadian consumer affairs / investigative journalism show.
How not to get nailed … No one sees more renovation ripoffs than Mike Holmes. Marketplace uses hidden cameras to expose a contractor responsible for the latest disaster heâ€™s fixing.
Marketplace sets the Sting
“The real deal on Home Contractors … Home Improvement Horrors … Hidden Camera Job Quotes … Who to trust … One very questionable character.” Oh boy, I can’t wait.
The show seemed to have 2 goals. First to set up a “test” to illustrate to viewers how to weed out the good from the bad contractors, what to look for. And second, to “bait a trap” for one particularly bad contractor (Leo Dos Reis of Max Pies Home Improvements), who crops up time and time again in complaint email to Mike Holmes from disillusioned homeowners.
The contractors job quote and interview segment is instructive and revealing but not terribly surprising. None of them quite measured up to Mike Holmes’ wish list … but then his standards are pretty high.
The Max Pies expose and sting operation, however, is brutal. Mike Holmes investigates the job and points out how the home is now unsafe, how the room built for the family baby could endanger her health, and how the house doesn’t meet building code.
Wendy Mesley of Marketplace interviews unhappy homeowners. And investigates the misleading Max Pies web site which is revealed to use photos of work by other contractors without their permission. How one contractor has tried repeatedly to have his photos removed even to the point of engaging a lawyer, without success.
A Very Questionable Character Caught in the Act
Leo Dos Reis, the owner of Max Pies Home Improvements, is the “very questionable character” mentioned in the teaser. FYI, Max Pies Home Improvements in Canada is not affiliated with the similarly named US flooring company.
The piece de resistance is the video sting of Dos Reis in action – the sales pitch, the misleading actions and statements about his license and qualifications, the customers he claims to have worked for who’ve never heard of him, the protestations about his reputation, the over-priced estimate, and the high pressure sales tactics.
Turns out Mr. Dos Reis has been charged with 14 counts of fraud. Marketplace tried to meet with him but he beat a hasty retreat when he saw the cameras. Apparently, he was supposed to be in court again last week. I checked out the local home improvement rating & reviews site and he has a solid 3 Star Rating in spite of the above. Interesting. Very interesting indeed.
Five Star piece of reporting by Marketplace, irrespective of the city you live in; highly recommended viewing if you are considering hiring a home improvement contractor.
The episode originally aired in January but you can see all the videos on the Marketplace site – including a March update on the story. Apparently Dos Reis is now running Platinum Home Renovations – with the same photos and content. He is still also going to court. All of which makes him Canada’s poster boy for bad home improvement contractors. You can find out more about the charges by searching the Consumer Beware database for “Max Pies” then clicking on DOS REIS, LEONARDO. Searching for “leo dos reis” won’t bring anything up, due to the way the search is designed.
DOS REIS, LEONARDO
CRIMINAL CODE – CCC – FRAUD, 13 CHARGES ON 2006/05/03
CRIMINAL CODE – CCC – ATTEMPT FRAUD, 1 CHARGE ON 2006/05/03
CRIMINAL CODE – CCC – FRAUD, 1 CHARGE ON 2007/04/04
For more info about crusading contractor Mike Holmes check out the Mike Holmes -Wikipedia entry and the Holmes on Homes website. Holmes on Homes airs on the Discovery Home channel in the US and HGTV in Canada.