Customer: 'Contractor ripped me off'

$7K returned after News 6 investigation

When Cheryl Massaro was getting ready to remodel her master bathroom, she already had someone in mind to do the work.  A contractor, Jay Estes, had renovated another bathroom in Massaro’s home a year earlier and she was willing to hire him again.

[WEB EXTRAS: Search for licensed contractors | When do you need a licensed contractor? ]

“He did an OK job, and we thought he could use the money,” said Massaro, who signed a contract provided by Estes agreeing to pay him $11,750 to tear out her master bathroom tile and drywall.   The contract also included a newly-built shower, a new cabinet and sinks, and the replacement of the toilet.

In early September 2015, Massaro gave Estes a check for $7,000 as a deposit.  She believed the bathroom renovations would be complete by Christmas.

After cashing the check, the contractor never set foot in Massaro’s house again, she claims.

“We gave him $7,000, and haven’t seen anything since,” Massaro told News 6 in January. 

At the time Massaro signed the contract, she was unaware Estes had been sued by several former customers.  Since 2008, at least seven people have filed lawsuits against the contractor, most claiming he refused to refund their deposits after failing to start or complete work, court records show.

“This is a pattern. This person does this all the time,” said Massaro after learning about the lawsuits filed against Estes.  “We’re not a financial institution.  You can’t borrow money from us.  We want our money back.”

In February 2016, a couple sued Estes claiming he “completed minimal tasks and stopped working” on kitchen renovations nearly a year earlier without refunding their $6500 deposit.  Estes has not yet responded to the lawsuit.

Eight years earlier, another former customer, Alex Haff, claimed Estes accepted a $3,200 deposit for tile work but only removed a few pieces of tile, court records state.

According to a 2008 police report, when Haff attempted to confront the contractor about their dispute, Estes allegedly grabbed Haff “in a semi headlock," placed his hand on the 68-year-old’s neck and squeezed.

Estes claimed he was in fear of Haff and was trying to protect himself and his 4-year-old son, according to court documents.

Prosecutors charged Estes with misdemeanor battery.  He later pleaded no contest to the crime and was sentenced to six months probation along with mandatory anger management classes, court records show.

Haff was eventually awarded a $1,000 judgment in his civil case against Estes.

“I wouldn't trust him in my home,” Massaro said after News 6 informed her of Estes’s legal problems.  “I wouldn't trust him on my property.”

An advertisement posted in a local newspaper for Estes’s company, Jay’s Floors, indicates the Marine veteran is “licensed and insured”.  The ad also states “I personally do all work”.

Estes does not possess any Florida contractor licenses, according to state records.  He also does not have a business tax receipt, which is required to operate a business in Palm Coast, city officials said.

A state contractor license is not required to install tile or replace drywall.  However, a contractor must be licensed before doing plumbing and electrical work.  In addition, a contractor must have a state license in order to request building permits from the city of Palm Coast, city officials confirm.

Estes’s contract with Massaro does not specify whether he or someone else would be installing the shower, sinks, and toilet.  No permits were ever pulled for the reconstruction of Massaro’s shower, according to the city’s building department.

In 2010, Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation investigated Estes for practicing electrical and construction contracting without a license.  A Deltona homeowner who chose not to sue Estes claims he hired the contractor to remodel a bathroom and two bedrooms, including the installation of a tub, toilet, and sink.  Estes also offered to install two light fixtures and new light switches, according to a complaint.

After paying Estes a $4500 deposit, the contractor spent two hours removing old tile but did no other work, the homeowner claimed.
Estes told state investigators he was merely a tile installer and denied doing any unlicensed work at the Deltona home.  The contractor promised state investigators he would not include plumbing or other work that requires a license on future proposals, records show.

Estes’s written proposal for Massaro’s bathroom remodel lists two faucets, sinks, toilet, and shower pan installation. Massaro claims the project also included the installation of a new light fixture, although it is not specified in the contract.

Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation determined that Estes violated state law by performing unlicensed contracting at the Deltona home. Although state officials said they could have issued Estes a fine as high as $10,000, the agency decided Estes would not pay an administrative penalty.  However, the state ordered Estes to cease any further unlicensed activity, records show.

When News 6 reached Estes by phone, the contractor declined to answer questions about Massaro and his other unhappy customers.

“I want my day in court,” said Estes, who has never been sued by Massaro.  “Let’s go to court.”

Estes indicated he had purchased more than $3,000 in materials for Massaro’s bathroom remodel and was paying storage fees for it.  Estes refused to tell News 6 where those materials being stored or provide receipts for what was purchased.

“I want my day in court,” Estes replied again.

Massaro denied claims made by Estes that she backed out of the agreement.

“I just want my money back or my materials back so we can all move forward,” she said.

Shortly after contacting News 6, Massaro met with representatives of the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office.  The agency opened a criminal investigation into Estes, a spokesman confirmed.

After a sheriff’s investigator notified Estes that Florida law requires contractors to begin work within 90 days of accepting a customer’s deposit, Estes made arrangements to refund Massaro’s money.

On February 5, more than five months after collecting Massaro’s deposit, Estes gave her a $7,000 cashier’s check.

“Thanks so much for all your help,” Massaro told News 6.  “Without your involvement I am certain we would not have reached resolution so quickly.”