Feeling Burned: Homeowners Say They Lost Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars to Maryland Contractor

A Maryland-based home contractor is at the center of a state investigation, following complaints about faulty and incomplete work on houses, including some customers who had already lost almost all of their possessions in house fires, the News4 I-Team has learned.

One of those customers, Zenobia Garnder, said she paid Prompt Restoration, Inc. $299,000 for work that is still incomplete.

"I was told I was going to be made whole after the fire," Gardner said. "But he is not making me whole. He's just taken advantage of me."

Gardner's home burned down in November 2014, after her husband's classic Chevy malfunctioned and exploded in their garage in Fort Washington, Maryland. She said her insurance adjuster referred her to Prompt Restoration and its president, Jim Martin, to rebuild her home. Gardner didn't have many reservations about her decision to hire him at first.

"After investigating his work, I felt it was a good choice," she said.

But more than a year-and-a-half after the fire, Gardner's home remains empty -- down to its wooden and steel frame, with only weathered tarps and construction wrapping to cover the roof and missing walls and windows.

Gardner said her adjusters helped her work out an agreement to have the work completed by February. Instead, she said, she received a letter informing her that Prompt Restoration had filed for bankruptcy -- adding a new challenge to the process of getting her money back.

"I thought I could get a new builder," Gardner said of her attempt to recover the $299,000 she got from her insurance company. "But I can't because under Chapter 11, he has the right to put his company back on track financially. And they consider my job as an asset because it's a job that he hasn't finished but he has secured."

The News4 I-Team sent letters to Jim Martin and Prompt Restoration to ask them to explain what happened and called multiple times. There was no response when the I-Team went to Prompt Restoration's office in Elkridge, either.

A bankruptcy attorney representing Martin and the company did respond by phone and told News4 Prompt Restoration was at one point a $10 million business but had clients that never paid the company for the work it did. The attorney said the company has a lot of money owed to it, on top of an "immediate cash flow crunch," because the public claims adjuster who normally helped give them business was no longer able to do so.

Prompt Restoration wanted to do the right thing by entering bankruptcy, according to its attorney, which would allow the courts to oversee Prompt as it sought to recover the money owed to it, pay its debts and reorganize while continuing its business.

The company's attorney said he could not speak to our viewers' cases specifically but said Prompt reached out to several customers to inform them of the bankruptcy and offered to finish any outstanding work on their homes. None of those customers accepted, according to the attorney.

Zenobia Gardner said she didn't get one of those offers.

The News4 I-Team also reached out to Maryland's Home Improvement Commission (MHIC), which said Prompt Restoration is under investigation but wouldn't elaborate on the details. The I-Team found the state suspended the company's license in April after another homeowner accused Prompt Restoration of faulty and incomplete work.

MHIC Executive Director Dave Finneran said his office fields about 2,000 complaints a year from residents who have problems with the home contractors they've hired, and the state can investigate and help people like Gardner.

"This can be a daunting process," Finneran said. "But we're here for them, we're working for the homeowner... If you've had that project that's incomplete or abandoned, you're going to file a complaint with the Home Improvement Commission."

Gardner has already filed a complaint with the state. She's also in bankruptcy court, hoping to recover the money she paid to Prompt Restoration, and to finally get her house rebuilt.

"All I want to do is get home," she said.

Reported by Tisha Thompson, produced by Ashley Brown, and shot and edited by Steve Jones.

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