Unlicensed contractor wins lawsuit against customers

No proof handyman did work requiring a license, judge rules

By Mike DeForest - Investigative Reporter

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - A contractor who advertised himself as being "licensed" despite not having a general contractors or plumbing license has won a lawsuit he filed against a former customer.

Joshua Phipps was awarded a nearly $2,600 judgment by an Orange County judge after she ruled that there was no proof the specific bathroom renovation work he did for Neil Mehta and Kevin Messer required a state license.

Last year, the couple told News 6 they hired the contractor's company, Phipps Home Improvement, to replace their bathroom tile and install a new shower faucet where one did not previously exist.

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Messer claimed he witnessed Phipps install new pipes behind the shower wall to connect the valve to the new faucet.

An invoice from Phipps Home Improvement shows the contractor charged Messer $250 for "new wall plumbing."

According to Florida's Department of Business and Professional Regulation, a contractor who charges money for connecting plumbing lines to portable water lines must be licensed by the state.

Days after Phipps began demolishing their bathroom and installing new tile, the customers said they learned the contractor did not have the proper state licenses to do plumbing work.

As a result, Mehta and Messer instructed their bank to stop payment on the check they had given to Phipps as a down payment.

Weeks later, Phipps filed a lawsuit against the customers, claiming they owed him for the full cost of the renovation work.

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

Likewise, the couple's 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," Judge Faye Allen said Wednesday as she ruled in Phipps's favor.
"But the work the parties agreed to in this case don't seem to fall into that category."

"It's ridiculous," said Messer after learning he would have to pay Phipps for work that another contractor had to complete. "I think this man is used to getting what he wants, and today he got what he wanted again."

Phipps and his attorney declined to comment after their legal victory.

Around the time Messer and Mehta hired Phipps to renovate their bathroom, the Facebook page for Phipps Home Improvement stated that the company was "licensed, insured, & bonded for your peace of mind."

During the trial, Phipps indicated that the Facebook advertisement referred to an occupational license, not a general contractors license.

News 6 has been unable to verify that Phipps or his company have an occupational license, also known as a business tax receipt.

Orange County Tax Collector records do not show a business tax receipt on file for Phipps Home Improvement.

Prior to the trial, Phipps's attorney filed an exhibit with the court purporting to be Phipps's occupational license.

The document attached to the filing was actually a copy of the Articles of Incorporation for Phipps company that had been filed with Florida's Department of State.

The agency's website indicates occupational licenses are typically obtained from local county governments after registering with the Department of State.

Phipps's attorney declined to explain where the handyman's occupational license was filed.

"The long-standing policy of my firm is to not discuss pending legal matters with anyone other than my client," Scott P. Williams wrote in an email to News 6 following the trial.

State records show that Phipps' Facebook page once suggested his company did plumbing, electrical and roof work, all of which require special licensing from Florida's Department and Business and Professional Regulation

Those references have since been removed.

Last year, the state's licensing division received four complaints about Phipps Home Improvement that alleged unlicensed work.

A complaint filed by Messer and Mehta remains under investigation, a department spokesperson confirmed.

The three other cases were closed after undergoing legal review or due to insufficient evidence against Phipps, state records show.

Besides paying Phipps $2,217 for the work he did at Mehta and Messer's home before being fired, the judge ruled that the couple also owed him $374 for a power tool and scraper the handyman claims he left behind at the job site.

The couple denies that those items were in their possession.

"I would advise anybody getting any kind of contract work, do your research," said Messer after his defeat in court. "Do a complete background check no matter how much it may cost, because it might cost you a lot more in the end."

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