A Brookfield family lost everything after hiring a contractor for a simple remodeling job.
Carol Degen and her children Bill and Susan called a small, three bedroom, and one bathroom house on Stony Hill Road home, but as her children got older, Carol Degen wanted to plan for the future by updating her kitchen and bathroom.
She hired Town and Country Carpentry after speaking to owner Robert Janesky.
He told her he'd do the job for $38,725, and said it would be done in three weeks, but while he worked she and the kids would have to stay at a motel.
So she found a motel with a kitchenette that was on a bus line so Bill and Susan could get to work.
Shortly after they got there, the renovation began and the problems started too.
Bob Janesky said he encountered unexpected complications and needed more money if they wanted to get the job done.
Desperate to get home, Degen says she kept making the payments beyond the contract that he demanded to finish the job, even taking out a mortgage on the home that had been free and clear.
In all she gave Janesky $116,000, three times what he originally said the job would cost.
As the money went out, time wore on. Three weeks because a month, then two. All they saw was their house being taken apart.
When the motel got too pricey, they moved to another, cheaper option.
Degen cooked each night on a hot plate.
“It was difficult,” Degen said.
She says her bad luck snowballed. As the project expanded she says Janesky took all the family's possessions to storage, but when he stopped paying the bill, their whole life was sold at an auction, and her family's lifestyle wasn't the only thing to face the wrecking ball…her house did too.
There's one fact that makes the story even more remarkable than the expanding budget, lost belongings and demolished home would suggest… the work began in October of 2007.
While the condition of the home is startling, for $116,000, maybe the most amazing thing is that for all that money, the two-by-fours that are keeping the roof from caving in are the only new lumber they got in their home.
No new drywall, no new framing, no new kitchen, no bathroom.
In a story full of heartbreak, there are some moments when Carol says she was lucky.
First, she was introduced to William and Pat Holland by Mike Holland, Billy's Special Olympics coach.
The Holland Family Foundation put the family up in temporary housing, a multi-family in New Milford, and it has a kitchen and it's on a bus line, so it works.
They’ve been in the temporary housing for eight years.
Then the Hollands hooked them up with Attorney John Tower, who filed suit against Bob Janesky.
Earlier this year, that effort was rewarded with a whopping court judgment for more than $470,000 but they say they'll never recover anywhere near that, not even what they paid out.
“She’s got a mortgage to pay this $116,000, it went to him, and all that was achieved was a complete demolition of the inside of the house, leaving it completely uninhabitable,” Tower said. “It's been estimated that the value of that work was about $25,000 to demo the inside of the house, so he was paid $116,000 for $25,000 worth of work.”
So the Eyewitness News I-Team went looking to find out what went wrong with the job.
The I-Team showed up at a home where Janesky was living when the Degens sued him. The I-Team was told he wasn’t home, and that same day, Janesky left a voicemail for Tower saying if we did a story he’d bad mouth the Degens.
“I apparently have Channel 3 News, from what I can gather, trying to track me down, and I don't want to be confronted by those people,” the voicemail said, and continued “The conditions at those two places were deplorable and I don't want to bring that to light, especially given the two special needs kids Carol has, but obviously I'm going to defend myself.”
Janesky never responded to voicemails left for him by the I-Team.
He has also been ignoring demands from the state Department of Consumer Protection.
They want him to pay back the nearly $50,000 he owes them after three other homeowners who filed claims with the State Home Improvement Guaranty Fund for work he did at their homes.
He agreed to begin making payments in April, but got his registration suspended because he hasn't paid since June. He still owes more than $30,000.
“We suspend registrations on a consistent basis when there is a pattern of conduct or a pattern of not paying back to the fund. Before you got in touch with us there were two demands for payments of funds that didn't occur, and the suspension was based upon the lack of payments,” said Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris.
Harris says it's a coincidence he was suspended exactly a week after Eyewitness News I-Team first called.
Until then, anyone looking online would find that Robert Janesky was registered in good standing with the state.
No mention there of the prior complaints or payouts.
Commissioner Harris says that information isn't online, it's only available to people who give them a call.
He also says the registration isn't a license based on skill or experience, so the onus is still on the homeowner to do interviews and check references.
“There's a lot of homework that consumers need to do themselves, we're there to protect them in the end if there's a problem,” Harris said.
That protection comes from the Home Improvement Guaranty Fund that reimburses a homeowner up to $15,000 in losses, but that's only 3 percent of Carol Degen's judgment against Janesky.
Degen and her attorney were outraged when the I-Team told them a contractor could have a payout and keep working, but the commissioner defended the policy.
“You're not dealing with this cut and dry thing: non-payment, lose registration. And no one would want that. Because you'd push them underground. They'd be doing the work anyway and you'd be less likely to get funds paid back into the Guaranty Fund, and you'd have another contractor working unregistered and the homeowners using this contractor wouldn't have the protection of the fund,” Harris said.
Harris noted that when the Degen contract was signed in 2007, there hadn’t yet been payouts from the Guaranty Fund, so even had they called Consumer Protection, there was nothing to warn them about.
“This is no excuse, when he's done bad things and he's had judgments against him and he's had claims against the fund he's accountable for that, but who knows how much work he's done out there also,” Harris said.
The Degen family has only been surviving thanks to the charitable work of the Holland family, and with their home in the condition it’s in, and a mortgage already weighing it down, they see no way to get back home anytime soon.
“I try not to dwell on it because it only makes you sick,” Degen said. “There seems to be no care or responsibility on his part for what has become of this family.”
So they’ll keep relying on the kindness of others and keep hoping for a miracle that will someday turn the shell of a house back into their home.
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