TOM WARD - Poor homebuilders should be banned from trade for life

TOM WARD - Poor homebuilders should be banned from trade for life

It's a shame that a developer can come into a town, make a mess, and leave it for taxpayers and homeowners, lawyers and police to clean up.

It was nearly 10 years ago, during the boom times, that Colucci Companies of Cranston, builders, came to Cumberland with their attorney, Michael Kelly, asking to put a new housing development off rural Little Pond County Road. I, along with many neighbors, attended the Planning Board meetings to learn more. We were not trying to stop the development. As I told Mr. Kelly at the time, we acknowledge property rights and understood that, under zoning rules at that time, the builder had the right to develop the property. We just hoped to learn more, and hold the developer to high standards with regard to the roadways, sidewalks and other important details.

Rumors at the time cautioned us that there might be problems with the developer, but none of that hearsay mattered, of course. Owners have rights.

One promise made was for needed road improvements. Little Pond County Road, from Diamond Hill Road to the new development (about 1/4 mile), was to be dug up for town water pipes, and completely rebuilt. It was a mess in 2004 anyway, so the developer's plan "gifting" a new road surface sounded good to the Planning Board and neighbors. Today, we live with a reminder every day of how that promise wasn't kept, and how the town's taxpayers will eventually have to foot the bill for the long overdue work. When heading south, many of us routinely drive on the wrong side of the road to avoid the damage.

Buyers in the "Great Woods" development, however, have it far worse as the Colucci Companies appear to have gone into receivership or bankruptcy. The development's road remains unfinished, and one couple, Bill and Marissa O'Connor, are going to the police to seek criminal charges, claiming theft of their appliances and uninstalled bamboo flooring. Worse is the story of a young couple, Gina Iaciafano and Greg Hattoy of North Providence, who lost $140,000 they and Gina's dad had sunk into an unfinished home that was then lost in a May 8 auction. The couple had made a deposit on the home, and had been working with subcontractors allegedly left unpaid by the Coluccis, all to no avail.

I don't know if the Coluccis will ever build a home again, but it is a problem in Rhode Island for unsuspecting home buyers, as well as neighbors. Builders can disappear, form a new company under a new name, and go into business again. With partners, they can buy up land in a different town, hire attorneys, and begin anew. What is to stop them? In Cumberland, the typical bonds were taken out in case the Coluccis didn't get the job done. Those bonds will eventually be called in, but the funds, $545,000, will be far too insufficient to do much good. Great Woods homeowners, neighbors, and finally, taxpayers, will suffer.

Why can't Rhode Island get this right?

On April 30, Editor Marcia Green wrote in her story: "Cumberland Building Commissioner Neil Hall told The Breeze Rhode Island should step up its oversight of contractors.

'People are continuing to get screwed,' he said bluntly, 'by contractors who must only show proof of insurance to get a license.'

Massachusetts requires a test and has the authority to ban a problem contractor for life, he said.

'But in Rhode Island,' Hall complains, 'all they have to do is change the name of the LLC and they're off and running, back in business.'"

Many times, Rhode Island leaders are criticized for being "anti-business." Holding home builders to higher standards of ethics is not anti-business, but pro-consumer. This issue might not be top of mind for legislators and the state's professional home builders' association, but it should be. With a little effort, and a bit more caring, we can prevent messes like Great Woods in the future.

Ward is publisher of The Valley Breeze


You are correct in stating that we need more pro-consumer laws around the contracting (and sub-contracting business).

Experience has told me that all contractors are shady.

Back in 1992, I had a firm from Newport building an addition on my home and after taking 16K as a second payment, the check was cashed and the firm filed bankruptcy the next day. The "foreman" at the time claimed he knew about the pending filing but had to operate under business as usual. Of course, 3 days later he was back in business under a new LLC with the same subcontracting team offering to finish the work for a new price. My 16K? Gone. Assets of the firm? None....recourse? NONE.

RI has long lagged behind other states in consumer laws but this is particularly agregious since these same folks are repeat criminals and are legally protected in their work.

Since this experience, I have hired 2 more contractors over the years. One that is my current neighbors son...I feel I have some teeth there and I know his character as he grew up here. He does good work.

The 2nd was a work colleague who left to follow his dream. Same result...shoddy work performed by someone looking for a quick buck.

Going forward, I will avoid any large scale work. When I have to do it, they do it on my terms. Payment only after the job is finished. That limits me to only larger firms but I'm alright paying more to ensure completion.

This would most certainly be a bill that needs consideration in the least as much as what our official appetizer is in RI.