Brush Off

A painting job between two friends goes awry, and the Registrar of Contractors intervenes.

Along a quiet residential street on Tucson's northwest side, a simple house-painting job has turned ugly. But the state government program intended to help resolve cases like this isn't even applicable in this nasty situation.

"He did a lousy job," Charles Licurse says of house painter and former tenant Doug Terry. "There was overspray on the roof, window frames and screens; no sealer was put on the foundation, and he originally didn't caulk the house." Plus, Licurse adds, paint is pealing both from under the house eaves and along its foundation.

Terry, who indicates he has successfully painted at least 500 homes since going into business three years ago as a Certa ProPainters franchisee, denies many of the complaints. "They're telling me to fix stuff that was already there," he says, claiming he adequately prepped the house before painting. "I've done my darndest."

Licurse strenuously disagreed with Terry's assessment. Not satisfied with the paint job, in January, he sought assistance from the Arizona Registrar of Contractors office.

The Registrar of Contractors has a formal process for handling complaints against licensed contractors; it includes sending an inspector to the job site and holding a hearing before an administrative law judge. The contractor may then be given the opportunity to correct any problems, and in some cases, the homeowner can eventually be awarded compensation.

Financed with fees imposed on licensed contractors since its inception in 1981, the registrar's recovery fund has paid out millions of dollars to dissatisfied homeowners, with the average award now $8,100. In Pima County this year, 116 claims have been submitted, with more than $520,000 disbursed.

"We determine the worth of a (corrective) job based on bids obtained by the homeowner and verify those figures with an inspection," explains Marie Levie, assistant director in the registrar's office. "A check is then made out to the homeowner."

The availability of the recovery fund, though, doesn't diminish the intensity of many of the conflicts between customers and contractors. "In a decent portion of the cases, it's not uncommon to find mutual hatred between them," Levie says.

In addition, under the provisions of state law, the recovery fund program doesn't apply to rental properties, which means Licurse can't utilize it. But that is not the only unusual thing about his dispute with Terry.

For two years, the painter had rented the single-family house from Licurse.

"We got along great," Terry says. Based on that, it was agreed Terry would paint the stuccoed home in exchange for getting out of his lease early and the waiver of one month's rent of $900.

"That was a mistake," Terry indicates of a job that would normally cost $2,700. Plus, he adds, because of his friendly relationship with his landlord, they didn't do a complete walk-around inspection of the house before it was first painted in September 2002.

When they saw the result, Licurse and his significant other, Cindee DiGiovanni, were shocked at its poor quality and demanded the problems be fixed. Some touch-up work was done, but Terry believes the type of construction material used on the house is causing many of the persistent problems.

With frustration growing, Licurse and DiGiovanni turned to the Registrar of Contractors office. An inspector was sent out, and he listed three problem areas with the paint job. In response, Terry questions the inspector's competency and claims the corrective order he issued was "vague."

By the time of the legal hearing in July, two of the problems had been fixed. The third, however, remained unresolved, and it was the largest, covering peeling paint, overspray and missed areas. Based on these outstanding issues, Terry was given two months to correct the work, or his state license would be suspended.

Believing it would delay the suspension, in September, Terry filed a complaint alleging he had been denied access to the property. The registrar's office, however, turned him down, and suspended his license in October.

Arguing that his legal due process rights had been violated, Terry sought to have the suspension lifted, but was rebuffed again.

"I'm underwhelmed with the registrar's office," Terry says. "They've put me in a difficult position and cost me a lot of money. I could have (closed and) put 12 people out of work," he offers, but instead, he hired someone else who obtained a painting license.

Indicating this dispute has cost him more than $5,000 and an enormous amount of time, Terry says he will ask for another hearing. Its purpose, he states, is to offer evidence from an independent painting contractor that pre-existing conditions caused the remaining outstanding problems.

For her part, since the registrar's recovery fund isn't available to them, DiGiovanni says she and Licurse will try to collect the $1,000 insurance bond Terry holds. Then, based on bids they have obtained for corrective work, the two may possibly seek $1,500 more from civil court.

Whatever the outcome, Terry says he has learned one lesson from this case. "Never do work for your friends," he concludes.

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