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East Lyme police chief recommends 'due diligence' to avoid scams

East Lyme — The chief of police is warning residents to be leery of home improvement scams in the wake of multiple cases of shoddy driveway paving work.

Chief Michael Finkelstein said two homeowners in town were approached by someone offering them a deal to pave their driveways with leftover material from another project in the area.

Finkelstein said any residents approached in such a manner should do their "due diligence" to make sure there's a contract in place, and should inspect the material being used and research the person or company providing the service.

"Some people will unfortunately prey on doing (the work) immediately, grabbing the money from you and leaving. And that's always a concern, because you don't have the time to look into what they're trying to offer you," he said.

Josha Stanley, 22, of 11 Partridge Court was arrested April 16 and charged with failure to renew his contractor license, failure to provide notice of cancellation and failure to provide duplicate notice of cancellation, according to the East Lyme Police Department.

He previously was arrested March 25 on the same charges in a different case. Both incidents occurred on Upper Pattagansett Road.

Stanley was registered as a home improvement contractor under the name Shoreside Asphalt until the registration lapsed last November, according to the state Department of Consumer Protection.

Both residents said they were approached by representatives of Shoreside Asphalt at their homes on Jan. 1, according to police. In neither case was a written agreement signed. Both residents paid for the work that was completed despite their concerns about the quality of the product used, which was described in separate arrest warrant affidavits as being similar to "loose dirt" when touched and insufficiently thick.

Police said the homeowners discovered similar complaints on the Better Business Bureau website and found that Stanley's business license with the state had expired.

The Better Business Bureau listing for Shoreside Asphalt includes complaints filed in 2019 and 2020. Stanley's accreditation with the consumer resource group was revoked in July of last year for not responding appropriately to the two complaints.

According to the warrants, the resident in the first Upper Pattagansett Road case paid $2,600 for the work. The second resident agreed to pay $1,550 for half his driveway, and subsequently agreed to pay another $1,000 to finish the whole thing but called off the project before the work could be completed due to his concerns that he was being scammed.

The state consumer protection department warns residents on its website that home improvement contractors in Connecticut must be registered with the state and must provide a written contract with the date the contract is signed, the date that the work will begin, completion date and the date by which the homeowner may cancel the transaction. The contract also must include a provision giving the homeowner the right to cancel within three business days.

The warrant said Stanley told police over the phone in February that he had a signed contract for the work done in the first case, though he never provided a copy of the paperwork. He also said he was in the process of changing the name of his company and was waiting for a new home improvement contractor license, though he did not provide documentation.

Stanley is due in court on May 3 and 6 for the separate cases, according to the state Judicial Branch.

Finkelstein emphasized the importance of making sure any contractor is appropriately licensed. He referenced "a couple" arrests in recent years that involved faulty plumbing and electrical work done by people who were not registered with the state.

One of the cases came to light after members of the fire department discovered home improvement work at one of their calls had been done by an unlicensed contractor, according to Finkelstein.

Though it was not necessarily a scam, he said the contractor "could have caused serious injury or death to somebody because of the type of quick work they did, and they weren't licensed to do it."

He cautioned residents to be skeptical of anyone showing up at their homes or calling them over the phone with "offers that are too good to be true."

e.regan@theday.com

Steps to take

The state Department of Consumer Protection advises several steps people should take to make sure home improvement projects are done safely and correctly by contractors.

Check with regulators: A state registration number must be displayed on all contracts and advertising. You can check the registration by visiting elicense.ct.gov and clicking on "Lookup a License" at the bottom of the page. You can also call 1 (800) 842-2649 to find out if there have been problems with a contractor in the past.

Check the contractor's reputation: You can find out about complaints lodged against Connecticut businesses by searching the Better Business Bureau database at bbb.org/search or calling (203) 269-2700.

Check the contract: Home improvement contractors in Connecticut are required by law to provide a written contract that must include the date the contract is signed, the date that the work will begin, the completion date and the date by which the homeowner may cancel the transaction. The contract also must include a provision giving the homeowner the right to cancel within three business days.

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