Dear Consumer Ed:
I paid a $15,000 deposit to have a swimming pool installed. I have receipts and a written contract. The contractor was supposed to start three weeks ago. The permit has not been applied for, and the contractor will not respond to my messages. I have since discovered that he is a repeat fraud contractor. What steps do I need to take to get my money back?
Consumer Ed says:
Many disputes are better dealt with out of court, but since you cannot get a response from your contractor, formal legal action may be necessary to get your money back. In this case, it may be in your best interest to hire a private attorney to help you through the process. To find an attorney, you may go to the State Bar of Georgia’s website (gabar.org) and look up attorneys who are accepting new clients – some may even offer free consultations. If you cannot afford an attorney, you may reach out to Georgia Legal Services, the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, or local law schools to see if their clinics could offer assistance or guidance with your case.
In Georgia, claims for $15,000 or less can be filed in small claims court, also known as Magistrate Court. These claims do not require an attorney. To start the process, you will need to file a complaint or a petition with the clerk of the county court. The county court where you file your complaint should typically be the county in which you believe the person you are suing lives or conducts business. This will require a filing fee.
To learn more about how to find an attorney or file a complaint in magistrate court, visit https://consumer.georgia.gov/resolve-your-dispute/other-options-resolving-your-dispute.
If you decide to file a complaint, it is important to have the last known address and contact information of the person you are suing as the court will attempt to notify the person that you are taking legal action against him. If you do not have the private or business address of the contractor you are suing, you still have some options. You can try looking at property records, social media accounts, or other public records to figure out where the person may reside. The Post Office may have a forwarding address for this person, if the last known address is incorrect. Additionally, you may wish to contact known associates of the person.
Finally, you may consider filing a police report against the contractor for fraud and theft; however, the decision of whether to open the matter for a criminal investigation lies with local law enforcement.
Submit your own question to Consumer Ed. Remember…we do not give legal advice. Always consult a lawyer about legal issues.