Troubleshooters: Fmr. Delco church becomes center of contractor dispute

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A former Delaware County church is now at the center of a contractor dispute. (WPVI)

The former St. Andrew's United Methodist Church is a beautiful, historic building in Havertown, Delaware County.

But now this former house of worship is a dwelling of discord and dismay for the family who owns it.

"It was a unique project. We knew that it was going to cost a lot; we sold everything we had to get it," Mike Szlachta of Havertown said.

Mike and Jodie Szlachta are trying to transform the former sanctuary into a family home. But they could use some divine intervention.

In a lawsuit, they accuse their original contractor of negligence, deficiencies in work, fraud, and theft.

"We showed him what we were selling, how much we had, and what we were willing to pay to get the job done," Szlachta said.

Szlachta says John Kuhn told him he could do the job in four to six months.

Their lawsuit claims they paid Kuhn $303,000, but Kuhn "walked off the job."

"It's shocking; it's totally shocking," Szlachta said.

The Szlachtas' lawsuit also claims Kuhn overbilled them for subcontractors and caused damage to their property.

"Within ten seconds, the entire basement was filled up with mud and water," Szlachta said.

The Action News Troubleshooters went to John Kuhn for answers.

"Mr. Szlachta changed the entire plan and didn't believe he had to pay for it," Kuhn told the Troubleshooters.

I asked Kuhn what work he did with the $300,000.

"What I do? There was a lot of work done," Kuhn said.

Kuhn says, if anything, the Szlachtas owe him money.

"He probably owes me over $100,000 for work that I did do that I didn't get paid for. All the extras," Kuhn said.

I asked him what work exactly.

"There is litigation going on here so I'm not going into details," Kuhn said.

But later Kuhn tells me he will show me documents, emails, and saved text messages to prove his side of the story.

"I will invite you back and I will sit down there and I will show you everything I have. I already gave my attorney over 1,500 pages of documentation on this case," Kuhn said.

But then Kuhn told us, he and his attorney do not want to try this case in the media and they have nothing more to add.

Kuhn's attorney is trying to dismiss the court case claiming the complaint is legally insufficient.

Now this pending lawsuit also alleges violations of the Pennsylvania Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act and unfair trade practices.

Meantime, the Szlachtas did hire a second contractor, Ranieri & Kerns Associates (RKA), to finish the job.

They tell me their new home will be completed next month.

Here is some important information about the PA Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act:

Please note that a contractor cannot accept a deposit in excess of 1/3 of the contract price, or 1/3 of the contract price plus the cost of special order materials.

The Szlachtas allegedly gave their contractor more than $300,000. Their original contract is for $423,000!

Also, the contract doesn't appear to have a starting or completion date. That is very important to include in your contract.

Before hiring a contractor, please read more about the Act here from the Better Business Bureau:

WHAT IS IN A CONTRACT: The new law requires that home improvement contracts:

* Be legible, in writing, and include the registration number of the contractor;
* Be signed by the owner and the contractor or a salesperson of the contractor;
* Comprise of the entire agreement;
* Include the date of the transaction;
* Contain contact information of the contractor;
* Consist of the total sales price and any down payments;
* Include approximate starting date and completion date;
* Contain description of the work to be performed, the materials to be used and a set of specifications;
* Include the names, addresses and telephone numbers of all subcontractors on the project;
* State that the contractor agrees to maintain insurance and identifies the current amount of insurance;
* Include the toll-free telephone number for the Bureau;
* And a notice of the Right of Rescission.

A copy of the contract shall be provided to the consumer at the time it is signed.

Committing home improvement fraud can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a third-degree felony. If the victim is 60 years old or older, the grading of the offense will increase. HICPA also gives a court the ability to revoke or suspend a contractor's certificate. If revoked, a contractor can only petition the court for reinstatement after five years have elapsed.

In addition to the registration and contractual requirements imposed, HICPA expands the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law to provide for additional prohibited acts that will give rise to a civil action by consumers.

A contractor is required to fully refund any amount paid by a customer within 10 days after it receives a written request for refund, if 45 days have passed since the work was to begin, and no substantial portion of the work has been performed. A contractor is also in violation of the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law if it materially deviates from plans or specifications without a written change order that contains the price change for the deviation.

Another important expansion of the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law holds that for a contract of more than $5,000, the contractor cannot accept a deposit in excess of 1/3 of the contract price, or 1/3 of the contract price plus the cost of special order materials.

Furthermore, attorney fees and costs may no longer be recovered by a contractor in an action against a consumer that fails to pay.

More information can be found here:
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