A plumbing company extracted $92,000 from an elderly Santa Monica homeowner after she hired the company to complete $5,000 worth of repairs and installations, city officials announced Wednesday.
On Jan. 27, a superior court judge sentenced Jet Speed Plumbing Inc., doing business as Ritz Plumbing, to three years of probation for unlawfully overcharging an 82-year-old woman tens of thousands of dollars for contract work. The owner of Ritz Plumbing was ordered to refund the $92,000 to the homeowner and must pay a $45,000 disciplinary bond before trying to reacquire a contractor’s license.
Officials said the investigation began after one of the homeowner’s adult children noticed that her mother’s bank accounts and retirement savings had been depleted.
Investigators found that the homeowner had initially engaged Ritz Plumbing to conduct $5,000 of plumbing work for ordinary repairs and installations. But Ritz Plumbing then entered into four other contracts with the homeowner and she paid the company an additional $92,000.
An employee of the company, Ignacio Duron, obtained another $81,000 from the homeowner for landscaping work that he had no license to perform. Duron even drove her to her bank so she could withdraw money to pay for the landscaping work, officials said.
“This case should act as a cautionary tale and reminder that when we are dealing with contractors, it is critical we know our rights and the law,” said Chief Deputy City Attorney Eda Suh of the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office’s Consumer Protection Division.
Suh said consumers should obtain at least three bids and references before hiring a contractor, check with the Contractors State License Board to ensure the contractor is licensed and sign a written contract with the contractor only after carefully reviewing it for accuracy and understanding its terms.
Suh also recommended not paying more than the legally required down payment, not paying with cash, and making a final payment only after the job is complete and building inspectors have signed the permits.