Get Gephardt: Homeowners ask why authorities can’t shut down an unlicensed contractor

Feb 22, 2024, 10:14 PM | Updated: Feb 23, 2024, 9:52 am

SALT LAKE CITY – The deck on Mark Shea’s Sugar House home is completed now, but he’s had to pay for it twice. The man he initially paid for the work stopped showing up, so Shea said he had to hire someone else to finish the job. Making matters worse, he says what little work had been done was not done to code.

“These were not installed correctly,” Shea said of some of the support beams the deck was to rest on. “The ledger board in the back – it was just the blue concrete screws attached to the house. It was missing the anchor screws, the thicker screw to keep it secure.”

 Homeowner Mark Shea shows KSL’s Matt Gephardt where his deck had to be reworked for safety issues. (Josh Szymanik, KSL TV)

Before hiring that first contractor, Shea said he thought he did his due diligence. “He told me he was licensed.”

But Shea said he later learned that was not true. “Come to find out after I contacted the Department of Professional Licensing.”

Shea says he has been trying to get a refund since last summer.

“He walked away with at least $15,000,” Shea said.

Kris Phillips has a similar story. He says he paid the same person $11,600 to build a deck for his Holladay home, which was never even started.

Homeowner Kris Phillips tells KSL’s Matt Gephardt he paid Jays Decking over $11,000 for a deck project that was never started. (Josh Szymanik, KSL TV)

“Nothing – absolutely nothing,” Phillips said. “He took the money.”

Phillips and Shea did not know each other before their experiences with the unlicensed contractor. They met after complaining about the man online. And while they say they’re mad at the guy who took their money, they’re also disappointed in the regulators tasked with protecting Utah consumers.

Public records show the unlicensed contractor, Jordan Day Dutson, has been cited several times by the state for contracting without a license: four times over the last year.

“There are no real consequences,” lamented Phillips. “Nothing is enforced.”

“We’ve issued numerous citations,” Bobby Main, a supervisor at the Utah Division of Professional Licensing, told the KSL Investigators.

We asked Main why Dutson was allowed to continue running his business.

“I don’t think he was allowed to do that,” Main responded. “There’s only so much we can do.”

He says state law has tied their hands.

“As far as unlicensed contractors, we can issue citations,” he said. “We have no other jurisdiction over unlicensed contractors in the state of Utah.”

Any punishment beyond that requires getting the slow wheels of justice to turn. A contractor operating without a license amounts to a class A misdemeanor in Utah – punishable by up to 364 days in jail and up to a $2,500 fine. It’s not always a top priority, Main said.

“Some prosecutors might not think it’s a sexy enough charge,” Main said. “Or they’re overwhelmed with other things going on.”

But Main says about one out of every five fraud complaints regulators receive involve contractors, which he believes has everyone taking it more seriously than they did before.

“We are having more success having cases prosecuted,” he said.

Operating without a license isn’t the only crime an unlicensed contractor can face for walking off a job. Taking money and not doing work can also be a crime – fraud or theft by deception. And indeed, police told the KSL Investigators they believe the man who took Shea’s and Phillips’ money has committed a crime. Their cases are now in the hands of the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office, which we confirmed will press charges.

Despite all of this, we found Jordan Jay Dutson still advertises his business online. A Yelp page touts Dutson as a “licensed/motivated individual.”

Dutson refused to talk to us on camera but by phone he insisted he’s not lying. While he doesn’t have a general contractor license, he does have a business license – and says that’s what he’s referring to when he says he’s licensed.

As to why he’s building decks knowing he’s not supposed to without a contractor license, he told us he was “working on getting it.” And as to whether the people who paid him will be getting a refund, he said he was “trying to do everything I can.”

As for Shea and Phillips, they’re not holding their breath for a refund.

“It’s not okay,” said Shea. “It definitely impacts the homeowners.”

“He’s just stealing money from people,” said Phillips.

Utah requires all contractors to be licensed through the state’s Division of Professional Licensing. A business license alone is not sufficient. Before you hire someone, you can verify a general contractor license here.

It’s also a good idea to ask the contractor you’re considering for references and actually contact those references to learn how well their projects went before you hire him or her.

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Get Gephardt: Homeowners ask why authorities can’t shut down an unlicensed contractor