By Mark Douglas, WFLA
Palm Harbor homeowner Joe Zigler had never heard about Florida's Construction lien law when someone from a roofing company called NBRC Construction knocked on his door in December 2012.
NBRC Construction LLC is under investigation by the Florida Department of Financial Services.
Pia Vasconi thought it sounded like a pretty good deal when NBRC Construction LLC promised to install a new roof on her home last year completely paid by her storm damage insurance policy.
Updated: Friday, October 18 2013 5:51 PM EDT
For some Tampa Bay area consumers NBRC's offer of a new roof they didn't have to pay for seemed too good to be true...and they were right.
The two men who run NBRC Construction are already beset by bankruptcy, civil fines, a theft arrest and an ongoing probe by fraud investigators from the Florida Department of Financial Services.
Updated: Friday, September 27 2013 6:32 PM EDT
Law enforcement agents with the Department of Financial Services say they are investigating the business practices of NBRC Construction in Tampa. The agents say that since December they have received 90 complaints from insurance companies and consumers. DFS Law Enforcement Captain Michael Byrne said those complaints focus on the company's repeated practice of collecting money from storm damage insurance claims they've filed on behalf of homeowners and the failure to replace the roofs or pay contract...
Zigler now says that the law, together with NBRC's questionable business practices, could cost him ownership of his home in a foreclosure action due to unpaid bills.
He's facing a lawsuit for more than $4000 worth of unpaid supplies, plus attorneys fees, court costs and 18 percent interest on the unpaid debt.
"It's all wrong," Zigler said. "It's just dead wrong."
NBRC Construction sold hundreds of homeowners like Zigler on the promise of storm damage insurance claims that would pay for total roof replacements on their homes in Pinellas, Pasco, Hillsborough, Polk, Manatee and Sarasota counties.
But an 8 On Your Side investigation revealed the company folded last year, leaving much of the work undone and owing a fortune to contractors, subcontractors and suppliers.
Under Florida's lien law, homeowners who signed on as NBRC customers are responsible for many of those bills -- even though NBRC collected money from insurance companies that were supposed to fund the work.
"The people in the construction industry should be accountable for their own actions,"Zigler said. "That's just not how it works in the rest of the world."
But thanks to Construction lien law, that's precisely how it works in Florida.
"The risk of nonpayment has to fall somewhere," said attorney and Lien Law expert Brian Deeb. "This is another situation where a homeowner has lost control of the flow of funds but hasn't escaped responsibility under the law."
Essentially, the burden falls on consumers to make sure subcontractors and suppliers are paid, even after consumers pay general contractors for the work. The way that's supposed to happen is for consumers to obtain a written "release of lien" or "lien waiver" from every subcontractor and supplier before doing outpayment in full to a general contractor.
"The homeowner needs to make sure that they have some control over the flow of funds," said Deeb.
But, that's not how it worked for Zigler and scores of other NBRC customers who signed paperwork at the outset, assigning all insurance benefits directly to NBRC as a condition of their work contracts. That provision essentially gave NBRC total control over all of the proceeds.
"To simply sign a blanket assignment...could be a great mistake," said Deeb.
Fraud investigators with Florida's Department of Financial Services tell 8 On Your Side they have identified 27 separate bank accounts operated by NBRC and 110 potential victims as part of an ongoing criminal investigation of the company's business practices.
The consumer advocate in Florida's Department of Insurance is also working on behalf of NBRC customers as well as lobbying for legislative reform that would make insurance companies more accountable for making sure work is performed after insurance proceeds are distributed.
But none of that will help Zigler, who is now resigned to paying again for the roofing supplies that his insurance benefit already paid for once. If he doesn't pay, the roofing material supplier could foreclosure on his home and end up owning it in lieu of the $4000 debt.
Zigler still can't understand how NBRC could take his insurance proceeds and leave him holding the bag for the unpaid supplies used to replace his roof.
"If it were me doing something wrong I'd be behind bars already," said Zigler. "But for some reason, they're not and I don't understand why."