“It’s ripping people off. I don’t understand how you don’t feel bad about yourself? Knowing you’re ripping people off and you’re doing a bad job,” says Homeowner Laura Lacroix.
Another New Hampshire family breaking their silence… sharing their story about a local contractor they say not only ripped them off but is also trying to silence them with a non-disparagement clause – or gag order – in the fine print of their contract.
We bring you their stories tonight. We track down the contractor and we’ll show you how our investigation is driving positive change.
For Laura and Matthew Lacroix, renovating the basement of their Merrimack home was one of the last projects on their to-do list.
“We’re talking walls, doors, outlets, ceiling—basic no plumbing.”
Through the referral site Home Advisor, they hired contractor and volunteer firefighter Joshua Garfinkle and things begin on a positive note.
“He was very pleasant in the beginning.”
But soon after work began on the two-week, $14,000 project, the Lacroix’s noticed some major safety issues.
“For me, it was the electrician. I don’t want to say that he didn’t know what he was talking about, but he’s just seemed like he always had to do research on something.”
For Laura, it was the stairs…
“When things start popping into my head and I start reaching out to Josh about various things and he starts exploding – either through email or through voice messages and it would just be brutal,” says Matthew.
“It’s ridiculous. He would say things that make you feel like you’re such a bad person,” says Laura.
What Laura and Matt couldn’t get from Garfinkle was a straight answer to an important but basic question: Are you doing the job up to code?
“He never responded to email and he never responded directly to the question,” says Matthew.
“No one ever came in to the house to inspect,” says Laura.
The Lacroix’s shared their frustration on Facebook, not realizing they signed a contract with that dreaded gag order, the non-disparagement clause.
“That’s sneaky. I read the contract,” says Laura. She adds, “I didn’t know what a non-disparagement means.”
Following our interview, the Lacroix’s decided to call in the town building inspector.
Turns out, their fears were justified.
“So this building inspector, having now gone through indicating that the wiring placement is wrong for electrical, the outlets are not to code, the stairway landing is not to code, the balusters are not to code, and the handrail is not done to code,” says Attorney Jim Steiner.
Which—according to Attorney Jim Steiner—means that it was Garfinkle who violated the Lacroix’s contract.
A contract Steiner believes wouldn’t hold up in court anyway—with the 75-hundred dollar minimum penalty for her Facebook review.
“It’s the kind of liquidated damages that the court would reject because it’s not tied to anything, any rational basis,” says Steiner. He adds, “This is somebody who can act as a general contractor because we don’t have licensing requirements for a general contractor and is trying to sneak in under the radar, do work without disclosing it to the building inspector, do it not to code, get some money and run off leave the homeowner in the fix.”
For the Lacroix’s and all of the families who have asked us—on and off camera—for help to get answers, we went looking for Garfinkle.
His home and business addresses in Salisbury and Canterbury—listed on court and other public records documents aren’t—current.
One is vacant, the other sold at auction months ago. But with the help of Private Investigator Don Nason, we finally tracked him down.
“Joshua Garfinkle, Celine McArthur, NH1 News. I’d like to talk to you about the non-disparagement clauses you have in your contracts. Why do you feel you need them? (No response) Some of your clients feel like it squashes their constitutional right to free speech. (No response. Garfinkle gets into his car and slowly tries to pull out of driveway) Some customers say they’re worried for their personal safety and financial security because of threats you’ve made on text messages and voicemail. (Garfinkle backing up car) Do you think this is conduct appropriate of a New Hampshire entrepreneur and first responder? Do you have anything you want to say? (Garfinkle drives off)
“What could he say that wouldn’t get him in trouble,” says Steiner. He adds, “What it suggests is someone who is willing to go to a couple of different degrees of deception to hide from a disgruntled customer, to hide from any kind of official inquiry, to hide from being discovered because it appears that he has a lot to run from.”
“There are a lot of things to find on Joshua Garfinkle—you have to be looking for them,” says Nason.
Another unsatisfied customer in New Hampshire – Melody Smith—says she was recently awarded a judgement of more than 5 thousand dollars in small claims court. Garfinkle hasn’t paid, so a warrant for his arrest is in the works. Digging deeper, we discovered that he’s been arrested twice—once for driving with a suspended license in an unregistered car. The other—on a warrant for issuing bad checks.
“Sometimes you don’t know people as well as you think you know them,” says Nason.
“Without exposing him, he can just run amuck around the state of new Hampshire or elsewhere in New England,” says Steiner.
And for the Lacroix’s, they hope this story will force referral sites—including Home Advisor—to change the way they operate.
“It’s unacceptable. It’s the whole purpose of your site. People can go and find trusting contractors for people to work on their homes, their yards, that’s what we depend on sites like that for,” says Laura. Matthew adds, “It’s a loophole in their website. It’s a massive loophole.”
Thanks to our story – Home Advisor says “Josh Garfinkle has been terminated from our network and we are working with the affected homeowners.” Plus, “We are adding a clause to our T&C’s that prohibit service professionals from requiring non-disparagement clauses in homeowner contracts.” Do you have something you want me to investigate? Send me an email or message on Facebook and Twitter.