By Cecilia Chan, GSN Managing Editor
An unlicensed Gilbert contractor who did shoddy work or walked off the job after taking homeowners’ money faces sentencing Thursday, Oct. 18.
Lance Edward Wills, 42, was working a job at a Mesa home when he was arrested on an outstanding warrant last week by Mesa police, according to the Arizona Registrar of Contractors.
“He was doing an entire remodel of the home,” said agency spokesman Jim Knupp. “We were alerted by Mesa Development Department they were going to be doing an inspection and there was a warrant for him obviously. Working with Mesa Development and Mesa police, they were able to organize a time and place to easily arrest him.”
The warrant was issued after Wills, who was doing business as NSD 1 LLC, failed to pay a court-ordered restitution after pleading guilty in 2014 to contracting without a license, a class 1 misdemeanor, according to the regulatory agency.
Wills was ordered to pay $6,971 in compensation to a Phoenix homeowner after taking $11,400 for a remodeling project in February 2013 and then pulling out of the job, the agency said.
Wills’ run-ins with the agency dates back to April 2006, when he was licensed. The agency revoked his license in July 2008 after it received eight complaints about Wills’ work performance.
Despite not having a license, officials said Wills continued working and racking up 20 unlicensed complaints, landing him on the agency’s most-wanted list of unlicensed contractors.
Since his first unlicensed complaint, Wills has taken $220,195 from home and business owners, often abandoning the project after receiving a deposit, according to the agency.
Of the 20 unlicensed complaints investigated, the agency submitted 15 to either the appropriate County Attorney’s Office or the Arizona Attorney General’s Office for prosecution.
Wills pled guilty to charges of contracting without a license in 2013, 2014, and 2015. And in March 2018, he pled guilty to the charge of fraudulent schemes and artifices, a class 2 felony.
Most recently in August, he pled guilty to two counts of theft, a class 3 felony in a case stemming from four agency investigations from 2013 to 2016, officials said.
Investigators found Wills took nearly a total of $150,000 from four residents who had hired him for home remodels and repairs. In exchange, Wills performed bad work or left the job.
Knupp said Wills did not see any jail time in those cases.
Each year the agency with 35 investigators checking into about 6,000 cases, of which 1,200 to 2,000 involve unlicensed contractors, according to Knupp.
Knupp said those looking to do a construction project such as roofing, remodel or a pool can avoid getting duped by unscrupulous contractors by first turning to the Registrar of Contractors. Residents and business owners can find out if a contractor is licensed and any information tied to that license.
“We have 40,000 licenses in Arizona,” Knupp said. “Ninety-three percent never receive a complaint throughout the lifetime of the license.”
Homeowners who hire a licensed contractor are afforded some protection by the agency if something were to go wrong with a job.
The agency has what is called a Residential Recovery Fund, established in 1981 by the state Legislature.
“It’s for rare cases that a licensee receives a complaint and fails to remedy any issue the agency finds,” Knupp said. “It’s a fund that homeowners may be eligible for if they have damage from a licensee. Anyone who hires someone who is unlicensed would not have that protection.”
A homeowner who is eligible for damages can recover a maximum of $30,000 per residence – enough to cover or repair a project and no more.
The maximum payout per residential contractor’s license is $200,000 and once that amount has been dispersed, no more payments will come from the fund against that contract.
Residential contractors pay into the recovery fund via fees from initial licenses and renewals.
Knupp said the average payout on claims is 336 a year based on a 10-year average.
“The home is probably the largest expense a homeowner will have,” he said. “We ask they start by hiring a licensed contractor to perform any remodeling or building of a home.