As anyone who has used local contractors to build or renovate a house knows, sometimes getting quality work for a fair price can be a daunting process. A homeowner in Wabash County found another hurdle: the state Supreme Court. In a recent decision, the court held that a small landscaping business was not covered by the state's home improvement fraud statute.
The case began when the homeowner hired the landscaper to complete a number of jobs in connection with his home. One of the jobs included landscaping on the property. The landscaper said that the price would be $22,749, and the homeowner agreed. The homeowner paid $20,000 to the landscaping firm. The landscaper also received a payment from a small construction firm in the amount of $15,000. The homeowner then paid the landscaper another $5,000. After receiving the payments, the landscaper stopped all work on the project and told the homeowner to hire another contractor. The landscaper also refused to return any portion of the homeowner's $25,000 payment.
The state charged the landscaper with violation of the state's criminal code covering home improvement fraud. The Supreme Court held that the landscaper's conduct was part of "new construction" and that it was not covered by the home improvement fraud statute. The court returned the case to the lower court with instructions to vacate the charges connected with violation of the home improvement fraud statute.
The practical consequences of this decision are difficult to predict. Small contractors may feel emboldened by the reversal. However, the landscaper's conviction for theft for performing only $5,000 worth of work after receiving a $20,000 payment was affirmed, and the landscaper was ordered to make restitution to the homeowner. In the end, the homeowner appears to have achieved a practical victory, and the landscaper is liable for his legal malfeasance.