CES steps in when a builder goes AWOL

A builder who went AWOL in the middle of building four new homes in Plymouth tested all the experience and knowledge of Code Enforcement Services’ Brent Strong, who serves as the city’s building official.“The guy disappeared about 30 to 50 percent of the way through the construction,” Strong said. “The owners called the building department, not sure how to proceed.”Strong described two paths: They could act as their own general contractor to finish the house or choose a new builder. Most chose the second option. As the new builders pulled their own permits, Strong worked alongside them, suspending or cancelling the old ones.Happily, another local builder, who already worked in Plymouth, took over all the projects. Within 30-60 days, most homes were back under construction.“This was crazy stressful for the residents,” said Plymouth Community Development Director John Buzuvis. “Brent and Craig (CES exec Craig Strong) were really good at being flexible and reasonable, trying to figure out how to handle the permits that were in somebody else’s name, bringing a new builder on board and helping the resident and the new builder navigate the process.”Builders can lose their state license for fraud or criminal activity. Brent Strong advised the owners on how to file a complaint to the state against the builder’s license, and they all did. The state then notified Strong, as the building official, to inspect the property and verify the extent to which the building was completed before being abandoned. He is scheduled to testify later this month.Some of the owners had construction loans and claimed the builder had falsified invoices when requesting draws from the bank. Strong advised those owners to file a complaint with the police departments since the performance bond was only $1,100 and they’d already paid permit fees of about $6,000. The owners could file a civil suit to recover the funds but, as Strong said, “If he hasn’t got the money, he hasn’t got the money.”Strong spent 15 years in the construction industry. Through CES he is also the building official for the city of Northville.How can people protect themselves when building a home?

  • Get references and follow up.
  • Use someone who already works in your city and ask for the last three local projects.
  • Contact the building department. The records are public. Even without references, people can identify past projects and contact the homeowners.

“A lot of people are leery of contractors,” Strong said. “Most are good, hard working people, but there’s always a few bad apples. Always do your homework.”