Action News Troubleshooters prompt action against local contractor; he speaks out

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- One of the most common complaints the Action News Troubleshooters get involves home improvement contractors. The Troubleshooters have talked to dozens of homeowners over the years, but this time they also had the opportunity to talk to a contractor who is the target of multiple accusations. Hear all the sides and decide what you think should happen next.

"On November 19, in 2017, we had a house fire," said Erika Taylor. "And unfortunately, it claimed my mother's life."

After the tragedy, Taylor paid Juan Rodriguez of DSV Construction $125,000 to rebuild her family home.

"He started off on a good note, but by August 2019 we still weren't done," she said. "He would say he was coming. He would never show up."

So, Taylor said she fired Rodriguez 17 months later and he still owes her money back.

"I don't understand how he even sleeps at night," she said.

WATCH: Contractor Juan Rodriguez talks about complaints against him in 1-on-1 interview
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One of the most common complaints the Action News Troubleshooters get involves home improvement contractors.

Tina Barlow, Maxna Germaine and Dale Schmid are also befuddled and angry.

"I was pissed. For you to take advantage of me knowing I mean, it's hard out here," said Barlow.

"When there were riots this summer, he got caught up in the riots. He got COVID. His crew got COVID. Like it was always, there was always an excuse," said Germaine.

"There was work that he'd claimed to have done that simply was not done," said Schmid. "We kept asking him for the permits and he always had some excuse, 'Oh, they're in the truck. Oh, I don't want to put them out, people might steal them. I'll keep them in a plastic envelope.' All this kind of stuff."

The city issued a violation and put a stop-work order on Schmid's door.

"He claimed that his facilitator hadn't processed the paperwork correctly," Schmid said. "Again, he wasn't taking responsibility for any of his actions."

The Troubleshooters asked how Schmid felt when he looked around.

"I'm angry, I'm upset," he said.

Rodriguez was supposed to build Schmid a sunroom.

SEE ALSO: Contractor investigation inspires change in Philadelphia agency
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Watch the report from Nydia Han on Action News at 11 on May 4, 2017.

All these customers told the Troubleshooters Rodriguez vanished without finishing the job.

"How much work did he actually do for you?" Troubleshooter Nydia Han asked Schmid.

"Maybe a third of the work has been done at most, but there's a lot of work that needs to be redone," said Schmid.

"And now he won't respond to your phone calls or text?" asked Han.

"No response whatsoever, nothing. Radio silence," said Schmid.

"When the coronavirus kicked in remember everything had to be shut down. So that was his out," said Tina Barlow.

Rodriguez blamed the issues with Schmid in part on COVID-19, too.

"Prior to COVID, a two by four was like $4 or $5. Right now, a two by four is almost $8. Drywall was $8.50. Right now, drywall is almost $13. You know, to keep up with those type of prices it's kind of hard to do when you already have a set price. And there was no way for me and him to come to a resolution to continue working there," explained Rodriguez.

But the Troubleshooters first investigated Rodriguez and DSV Construction in 2017, three years before the pandemic.

"I seen you literally running, trying to catch him," said Barlow.

"To find out how he's done this to others just outrages me," said Schmid.

In 2017, Rodriguez didn't want to talk to the Troubleshooters. This time he came to us to answer questions and talk on camera.

"This is all Mister Rodriguez. You owe it to him that he's here. My advice always to all of my clients is not to talk to the media, but he really wanted to make sure his side of the story is heard," said Tobias Brown, Rodriguez's attorney.

Troubleshooter Nydia Han started the interview by listing the names of viewers who reached out to us about him.

"Antonio Dominguez, Bonnie Ibisi, Charlotte Conway, Michelle Mariassy, Dale Schmid, Tina Barlow, Erika Taylor, and Maxna Germaine. Do you know what all of these people have in common?" she asked.

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"Those are all clients that I worked for in the past and some of them are currently working for still right now," said Rodriguez.

"These are all customers of yours who say they paid you a lot of money and you walked off their jobs and won't respond to their phone calls," Han said.

"We did work up to the point that they paid me. So, it's not like I walked off the job not doing any work. There was work that was done," said Rodriguez. "I just don't want to be portrayed like I'm a bad contractor. I do really good work and I stick to my clients."

"Your customers tell me they believe you knowingly rip them off," Han said.

"No, ma'am. I haven't ripped anybody off," he said.

Rodriguez said there were disputes over change orders as well as complications from the pandemic.

"All these eight customers, there was a dispute that we couldn't come to a resolution," said Rodriguez.

"I think part of the frustration among your customers is they say you fail to respond to them," Han said.

"I have a communication problem," Rodriguez responded. "I don't deal with conflict very well. The situation is that if somebody is constantly berating you and talking down to you and stuff like that, I don't want to respond in a negative way, so I feel as though it's best if I take myself out of that situation. But there's about 100 other people that I've done work for and never had one complaint filed against me."

In 2017 and now, the Troubleshooters and Rodriguez's customers went to the Pennsylvania Attorney General and the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office.

Rodriguez said he has complied with all investigations, and his attorney claimed he was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing.

The DA's office told the Troubleshooters it is continuing to investigate.

"How do I feel about that? I feel like somebody dropped the ball," said Barlow.

And Rodriguez has been able to renew his registration with the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office. But consumers need to know the attorney general's website has a disclaimer: "registration is not an endorsement, recommendation or approval."

"I think that's crazy. I don't understand how that's even possible," said Taylor.

"Your customers say you've outright lied to them," Han said to Rodriguez.

"I don't know who would say that," replied Rodriguez.

Rodriguez himself did. He pleaded guilty to a construction-related lie in 2019 after being accused by authorities of putting bogus inspection stickers on two unsafe electrical boxes and making up a lie about it that involved a family member and a written statement to police.

"How can it still be going on? I am completely befuddled. I just have no words for it. How can someone continue to do this?" asked Schmid.

"Dale Schmid has now filed a lawsuit against you. In it, he says you have failed to satisfy your contractual obligations knowingly, recklessly, negligently carelessly, and you are in violation of your duties," said Han.

"My attorney's reaching out to... to get that situated," Rodriguez replied.

But Rodriguez and his attorney did not file a response to the complaint in court and a default judgment has now been filed against Rodriguez.

"Are you concerned about this pattern of complaints against you?" Han asked Rodriguez.

"Yes, I'm very concerned about it, that's why I'm here doing this interview with you. I don't want to make it seem like I'm the type of person that takes somebody's money and doesn't do no work. I get paid," said Rodriguez.

"Will you do things differently now?" Han asked

"I have sat down with my lawyer and we structured contracts a lot more differently," said Rodriguez.

Rodriguez said they did so to make sure clients sign off on change orders and price increases.

Meantime, Taylor said she is speaking out in memory of her mother, Shelia Hawkins, who was a longtime teacher. She is also speaking out in hopes of protecting others.

"She had more than just my brother and I. She had children all around the city. She was a really great lady," said Taylor.

Rodriguez said he does not owe Taylor any money. He claims he did more than $125,000 worth of work on her house.

But he said he will now finish Maxna Germaine's job. In fact, Germaine told the Troubleshooters that Rodriguez started work again on her house on Monday. She also said he called and apologized to her for walking off her job, and has agreed to all of her requests and plans to finish the work in 90 days.

Tina Barlow has received a refund.

Another major update is the attorney general's office says after the Troubleshooters alerted the office to Rodriguez once again, it has deactivated his contractor registration. The AG's office also tells us its investigation is continuing.

Before you hire a home improvement contractor, here are tips:

-Look to see if that person is registered with the state and has the appropriate city or township licenses. But again, be aware that those steps are not enough. Registration is not an endorsement, approval or recommendation.

-For recommendations, talk to people you know.

-Protect yourself upfront. Ask for the contractor's proof of insurance and then call the agency to confirm coverage.

-Make sure everything is in writing on your contract, including a start and completion date and any change orders.

-Do not pay in full upfront. Instead do installments and make sure you do not pay the final amount until all the work is completed to your satisfaction.

If you have an issue for the Troubleshooters, please contact us here.
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