Building a home is supposed to be a meaningful experience. Sure, it's not always smooth sailing. Hiccups often arise at various stages throughout the project. But in the end, the buyer should get what they bargained for - the home they dreamed about, saved for and meticulously planned.
For dozens of customers of HD Custom Homes, however, the process has been nothing short of a nightmare.
Based out of Port Charlotte, Harden Dukes Custom Homes promised customers "the home of [their] dreams." Their website touts custom design, energy efficiency, "finest-quality craftmanship" and customer service.
Instead, they have left upwards of 50 homes unfinished, strapping some of their customers with unlivable properties and most with modest to extreme financial burdens.
"It's been hell"
Earlier this month, the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office was flooded with complaints from HD Custom Homes customers whose projects were abandoned mid-construction. The company stopped work, shuttered its model homes and went silent.
Meanwhile, many of the dozens of customers who had forked over hundreds of thousands of dollars to the company are left with virtually nothing, while others with completed or nearly completed homes have punch out work and liens to deal with.
Their stories are heartbreaking. Many saved for years or even decades to finally afford their dream home. Some have lost their life savings. And many are now stuck with not only unfinished homes, but also steep liens - collectively totaling nearly a million dollars - since subcontractors and suppliers haven't been paid.
Says one customer, "[I]t's been hell."
Criminal charges aren't enough
The Sherriff's Office is investigating HD Custom Homes and its owners, Stephen Dukes and Matthew Harden, for fraud and financial mismanagement According to one source, criminal charges are expected.
But a conviction is unlikely to put money back in victims' pockets. For that, homeowners will have to pursue a different path.
Tapping into the State Homeowner's Construction Industry Recovery Fund
How do customers get justice when the home builder has gone dark? How do they satisfy liens and finish construction when the money is already gone?
Fortunately, Florida provides a fund for these situations. The Construction Industry Licensing Board, which handles contractor licensing, also manages the Homeowners Construction Industry Recovery Fund. Homeowners who have lost money to unscrupulous builders can petition the fund for payouts.
As attorney Alan Tannenbaum outlined in an interview with the Charlotte Sun, victims may be eligible for compensation from the fund if:
- They plan to live in the home for at least six months a year.
- They have an uncollected court judgment from the builder or a bankruptcy order disallowing the claim.
However, there are important limitations to be aware of. Homeowners would be wise to pool their resources into hiring an attorney to represent their common interests.
Echoes of an earlier case
A decade ago, Tannenbaum Scro helped home buyers facing a similar situation - though on a much vaster scale. Our firm represented 150 home buyers who were left on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in liens after CCI Homes went bankrupt.
Given the large sums that were lost, attorney Alan Tannenbaum persuaded the state to raise the limit of the recovery fund to double the amount usually available (from $500,000 per builder to $1 million). By looking out for the interests of the group, we were able to ensure that each victim got a fair share of the recovery.
Contact us by phone at 866-615-4543 or by email to learn more.