INDIANAPOLIS -- An elderly east side couple wants to warn other homeowners about a home improvement contractor they say took their money and never did the work promised.
Carlene and Keith Hall told Call 6 Investigates they’re out $6,006 after trusting Jerry Hatten, 49, to remodel their home.
The Hall’s son contacted Call 6 Investigates Kara Kenney in an effort to get the couple their money back.
Kenney uncovered Hatten is a convicted felon with pending criminal charges connected with his business practices.
Carlene and Keith Hall have been married for 40 years, and almost all of it they’ve lived in their Hawthorne Lane home, which is almost 100 years old.
As an anniversary gift to one another, the Halls decided to spruce up their home.
“We wanted the whole inside painted, windows, walls ceilings, woodwork, the whole thing,” said Carlene Hall.
The Halls put the word out online that they were looking for a home improvement contractor, and Jerry Hatten responded.
“He told me if I paid that day, I'd get a discount," said Carlene.
The Halls handed over a check for $2,500 back in May, and another $3,506 in June when they asked Jerry Hatten to do their cabinets as well.
Documents show work was supposed to begin on June 29.
“I never saw him again," said Carlene.
The Hall’s home is now in disarray as they’ve put things in storage to prepare for work that never got done.
"It's torn us up, inside and out,” said Keith. “It's sad. I don't know when it's going to be put back together."
The Halls asked Hatten for a refund, and on July 17 Hatten responded that it would arrive within five business days.
Their refund check still hasn’t shown up.
Call 6 Investigates did some checking and found Hatten spent time in state prison in 2009 and 2010 for fraud on a financial institution.
In addition to criminal charges dating back to at least 2003, Hatten has multiple currently pending criminal cases in Central Indiana for theft and check deception.
For example, in Jackson County, prosecutors charged Hatten in October 2016 with 5 counts of felony theft.
Subcontractors contacted the Seymour Police Department after they said Hatten hired them to do work on hotels like Motel 6, Quality Inn, Economy Inn and the Salt Creek Inn, but the checks provided by Hatten showed “insufficient funds.”
“Hatten has made no effort to pay any of the subcontractors for their work and materials on the various projects they had done for him,” Seymour police said in court documents. “Hatten appears to obtain his money by having businesses he is going to do a work project for to provide some type of down payment. He then has the subcontractors come and work on the projects.”
A Jackson County warrant has been issued for Hatten’s arrest, but he has not yet appeared in court.
“Hatten’s activity is not one done by a legitimate business enterprise,” a Seymour police detective said in court documents.
Marion County prosecutors charged Hatten on July 12 with check deception and theft after subcontractor Barnett Drywall said Hatten failed to pay him $4,400.
A warrant has been issued for Hatten’s arrest in Marion County as well, records show.
Hatten also has multiple civil lawsuits pending against him, and the Better Business Bureau has received nine complaints about Hatten LLC, five of which have been filed in 2017.
The Indiana Attorney General’s office has received three complaints in 2017 about Hatten, including one from homeowner Jonathan Lake who told Call 6 Investigates Hatten still owes him $12,000 after failing to do the work promised.
Call 6 Investigates went to multiple addresses used by Jerry Hatten, including a Rockville Road address used on business documents given to the Halls.
The Rockville Road address is a UPS store, but the store could not confirm whether Hatten actually has a P.O. box there.
Call 6 Investigates emailed Hatten who responded July 25, "I am sorry but we have been in the process of closing the business. We are currently working to get all accounts settled within the next 30 days to make sure that every account is satisfied at 100% by then."
The Halls say they never would have given Hatten the money up front if they had known about his past.
Hatten is still listed on Angie’s List as a “low cost high quality” contractor.
The Halls want to warn others about hiring Hatten to do work on their home.
“This has been a nightmare,” said Carlene Hall. “I can't put things back and I can't find anything. I don't want any person, especially an older person to have to go through this."
Call 6 Investigates notified Angie’s List about Hatten’s pending criminal cases.
“I have forwarded to our legal counsel and we are investigating,” said Leslie Arena, spokesperson for Angie’s List. “We have removed him from general category and keyword searches. If anyone still searches for the specific provider by inserting his company name, they will see our notice about why the company is excluded.”
Arena also provided a link to Angie’s List policy on background checks, which shows they do background checks on certain contractors, but not all.
“Angie's List has criminal background checks performed annually on the principal/owner or relevant manager of all "A"- and "B"-rated companies that are Certified Service Providers, that offer ecommerce offers, that receive leads through the Projects Submissions platform, or that are granted the Super Service Award,” according to their website.
Angie’s List encourages consumers to do their own research before hiring a contractor.
TIPS FROM THE INDIANA ATTORNEY GENERAL
Finding a Contractor
• Take your time. Don’t let the contractor rush your decision
• Do research. Know how much you can afford and what you want done
• Contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division and the Better Business Bureau for complaint information on contractors you are considering
• Talk to your friends who used this contractor. Did they like his work?
• Opt for the local, well-established contractor. Don’t assume that an ad makes the contractor reliable.
• Compare bids and services. Be skeptical if the bid is too low. Cheaper is not necessarily better. A contractor with a low price may be inexperienced and unable to finish the work for the amount bid.
• Get bids in writing. Does the bid reflect the improvements you discussed? How long will the project take? A detailed, written proposal allows you to shop around.
• Is the contractor licensed, bonded and insured? Licensing requirements vary from community to community.
• Check with your city or county building department to determine the licensing requirements for your area and if the contractor you are considering is properly licensed, bonded and insured.
Before Signing the Contract
• Get a written contract. Indiana law requires home improvement contracts exceeding $150 to be in writing. Before signing the contract, make certain it includes:
• The price of the job
• Payment schedule
• A detailed description of the work and materials (including colors, brand names and patterns)
• Estimated start and completion dates
• The contractor’s name and address
• A name and telephone number of the person to contact if problems arise
• The contractor’s signature
• Never pay for the entire project before the work begins. Do not pay more than 1/3 of the total cost as a down payment. Remaining payments should be tied to completion of specified amounts of work.
After Signing the Contract
• Is a permit needed for your home improvement? Many localities require permits for building projects. Contact your local building department to see if a permit is needed. A contractor should not start work until the permit is issued.
• Don’t make the final payment to the contractor until you know that all subcontractors and/or suppliers have been paid. Get written proof of payment. Subcontractors and suppliers may file a mechanics lien against your home if they haven’t been paid.
• Get a copy of the warranty. If a contractor guarantees labor and/or materials, those warranties should be in writing.
• Keep all records related to your project. This includes the contract, change orders, warranties, and correspondence. These records are important, particularly if you have a problem with your project.
Even if precautions are taken, problems may arise. Take time to talk to your contractor to resolve these issues. If problems continue, put your complaints in writing and send them to the contractor. Be sure to keep a copy of these complaints for your records