DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. – Marsha Seidman called Local 10 News investigative reporter Christina Vazquez after she felt she was swindled by two contractors who installed windows in her Century Village home.
The men from Bruna Enclosures, who identified themselves as Chuck and Larry, told Seidman she would not need a permit for the windows in her screened enclosure, but it turns out she did.
"Monday morning, on my door was a red summons from the city," Seidman said. When she asked Bruna Enclosures for a refund for the $2,800 she spent, the contractors refused.
When Vazquez began investigating, she found some surprises.
County records show the Class A General Builder license number listed on the front door for the Broward County business expired in 2008.
It was in the name of Frank Donley who, according to a Sun Sentinel Obituary, owned and operated Bruna Enclosures for more than three decade and passed away in May of 2014.
The bottom right corner of one Bruna Enclosures advertisement reads: "Working with AMD Group Liscense #CBC 12578290." That is not a typo, license was spelled "liscense" on the ad.
That CBC license number used in that advertisement adds a zero to the end of AMD Group Design Build Firm's current and active license number of: CBC1257829
Local 10 first checked in with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation who told us, "The Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) does not have any record of Steve Tweed Delbrune (CBC1257829) qualifying Bruna Enclosures to perform construction services which require a state license," adding, "Based on the information you have provided, DBPR is opening an unlicensed activity case against Bruna Enclosures."
Then Local 10 contacted certified building contractor Steve Delbrune of The AMD Group Inc. A Design-Build Firm who was in shock another company would advertise with part of his business name and CBC license number.
"They basically lopped off the design bill portion and lopped off my first and last name," Steve Delbrune said. "I don't know Chuck. I don't know Larry. I've never heard of the company before."
When Vazquez confronted a man who lives at a home registered to a Charles Donley, he denied being the man she was looking for, though he admitted his father was named Frank before his death. Then, he drove off in a car registered to Charles Donley.
Then Vazquez tracked down Larry, who confirmed the man from the previous confrontation was his business partner Chuck. While he admitted they work together, he told her they've done nothing wrong.
Experts warn not to trust the words "licensed and insured" on a business card. Before you hire contractors to work in your home, check the status of their license and look for complaints.
"Go online and do some research on your own to verify whatever the information is," real estate and construction attorney Ray Robinson recommended. "The entity that is actually signing the contract has to be the license entity under Florida law."
We asked Robinson what steps a business owner like Delbrune should do if they discover another company is using a portion of their name and license in advertisements.
He recommended that the company:
1) Issue a 'cease and desist' order to the company and/or individual(s) using their name or license number without their knowledge or consent.
2) Notify the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
The Department of Business and Professional Regulation had this advice:
The Department of Business and Professional Regulation recommends that licensed contractors who discover that another individual or business is advertising with their name or license number contact their local building department so they can determine if the unlicensed contractor has also pulled building permits using their license number.
Additionally, licensees can file an unlicensed activity complaint with DBPR against the individual or company using their license number. Floridians are asked to report any suspected unlicensed activity by emailing ULA@myfloridalicense.com or calling the DBPR Unlicensed Activity Hotline at 1 (866) 532-1440.
Complaints of unlicensed activity can also be submitted through the DBPR Mobile app and sent directly to DBPR headquarters in close to real time. To learn more about reporting unlicensed activity using the DBPR Mobile app, consumers and licensees can watch the how-to video . The DBPR Mobile app is free to download through iTunes and the Google Play app store.
Unlicensed activity is against the law and it also poses various financial and safety dangers to consumers. The department encourages consumers to always verify the name or license number of the professional they are looking to hire. With regard to state-licensed contractors, the license number (not simply the term "licensed") is required to be on all advertising. Consumers can verify professional licenses with the department online, by calling (850) 487-1395 or on the DBPR Mobile app. Consumers should also check with their local building department for any additional local licenses or permits that are required.
Local 10 News also contacted the City of Deerfield Beach.
City officials there tell us Bruna Enclosures is not registered as a contractor with the Building Department.
They confirmed Seidman would need a permit to install the windows.
Their advice to residents was to contact a licensed contractor: "Residents can check the county and state websites to ensure these businesses have no unresolved issues or complaints."
The Department of Business and Professional Regulation and Broward County have each opened unlicensed activity investigations into Bruna Enclosures, following Vazquez's findings.
Seidman was never refunded and still has the windows her city said she needs a permit for.
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