State fines unlicensed contractor who sued former customer

Joshua Phipps ordered to pay state agency after winning $2,592 in lawsuit

By Mike DeForest - Investigative Reporter

Joshua Phipps.

ORLANDO, Fla. - A home improvement contractor who won $2,592 in a lawsuit he filed against a former customer was ordered to pay a $3,000 fine last month for performing unlicensed work on the same job, state records show.

Florida's Department of Business and Professional Regulation accused Joshua Phipps of installing plumbing at the home without holding a valid license or registration to do such work.

The state licensing agency issued the fine February 12 after claiming Phipps failed to respond to an administrative complaint delivered to his home address in September via certified mail, DBPR records indicate.

"Please get your facts straight," Phipps told News 6 in response to an email seeking comment for this story.  "Please do not contact me on this matter again."

Phipps provided News 6 with a phone number for the law firm of construction industry attorney Glenn Williams.  Representatives of the law firm did not respond to a voicemail left by News 6.

Another attorney who represented Phipps in a previous matter later contacted News 6 claiming DPBR issued an amended order in the case on March 15 that lowered the amount of money Phipps was required to pay.

"I have not been given authority by my client to release a copy of the order as we do not want to violate any rules that agency may have related to confidentiality of their work," said attorney Scott P. Williams.

News 6 attempted to obtain a copy of any amended orders from DBPR but was told no other records were available related to Phipps's case.

"The final order that we provided you is the most recently filed order," said DBPR Acting Communications Director Patrick Fargason.  "The department does not have any further responsive records at this time."

In 2017, Phipps filed a lawsuit against former customer Neil Mehta after the homeowner stopped payment on a check intended as a down payment for a bathroom renovation project.

Besides being unhappy with the workmanship performed by subcontractors, Mehta and his husband, Kevin Messer, claimed Phipps installed new pipes in the shower despite state records confirming Phipps was not a licensed plumber or general contractor.

Online advertisements for Phipps's former company, Phipps Home Improvement, indicated he was "licensed, insured, and bonded."

"We didn't question him," said Messer, who fired Phipps before the job was complete.  "We should have."

In his lawsuit, Phipps claimed the customers breached the contract and owed him $4,600 for the full cost of the bathroom renovation.

Under Florida law, contracts entered into by unlicensed contractors are unenforceable.

But during the civil trial in small claims court last year, Messer did not testify about seeing Phipps installing new pipes, as he had previously told News 6.

Likewise, the customers' attorney did not present any evidence, such as expert testimony, suggesting a plumbing license was required for the work Phipps did.

Phipps acknowledged in court that he did not have a general contractors license, but he denied doing any plumbing work that required a license.

"That's a showerhead. You're allowed to turn on a shower head," said Phipps when questioned about an invoice indicating he installed new wall plumbing.

"Some repairs do require that the company or person be licensed as a general contractor," said Judge Faye Allen as she ruled in favor of Phipps.  "But the work the parties agreed to in this case don't seem to fall into that category."

Nearly a year after Allen awarded the handyman a $2,592 judgment in the lawsuit, DPBR issued Phipps a $3,000 fine for "performing an activity requiring licensure," state records show.

That work included "installing a new toilet quarter turn connection and new wall plumbing with an extra head," according to DBPR records.

Messer and Mehta did not immediately respond to an email from News 6 seeking comment about the state's fine against the handyman.

DBPR has investigated four complaints alleging Phipps performed unlicensed work, including the one filed by Mehta and Messer.

Three of those cases were later closed after legal review or due to insufficient evidence, state records show.
 

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include responses from Phipps's attorney and indicate the date of the DBPR order.

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