Central Valley contractor rebuilding homes after Tubbs fire accused of fraud, negligence
A year and a half after she selected a contractor to begin rebuilding the house she lost in the October 2017 Tubbs fire, Lynette Kronick has nothing to show for it. Her burned lot on Lavender Lane in the Mark West neighborhood remains vacant.
“My roommate has a 3-year-old granddaughter,” she said. “I’d like to have this house built before she graduates from high school.”
That’s why in April she fired Chiaramonte Construction & Plumbing Inc., a Central Valley builder who signed contracts with her and about 40 Santa Rosa-area homeowners to rebuild their houses destroyed in the devastating wildfire.
Now, they are a group of disgruntled customers going through the agony of dealing with an out-of-town contractor they say has fallen well short of meeting their expectations. They claim Chiaramonte has blown deadlines, broken promises on construction start dates, made many mistakes, left their homes unfinished and in some cases improperly charged them for unfinished work.
On Friday, Chiaramonte Construction became the first contractor to be accused by fire survivors of negligence and fraud during the massive rebuild underway in sections of Santa Rosa ravaged by the historic fire. Robert Richner and his wife, whose Mark West Estates home burned, filed a civil lawsuit against Chiaramonte in Sonoma County Superior Court, alleging fraud and negligent misrepresentation regarding their home construction contract with the Tulare company.
This week, in response to customer complaints about Chiaramonte, the California Contractors State License Board opened a preliminary inquiry to assess the allegations, which include fraud, abandoning a construction project and lack of reasonable diligence, board spokesman Rick Lopes said.
The Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office, which also received complaints about the contractor, is working “in conjunction” with the licensing board, Assistant District Attorney William Brockley said.
County Supervisor James Gore, whose district includes Larkfield-Wikiup and the greater Mark West area, said he heard complaints from 20 to 30 families about Chiaramonte not delivering on its promises, “walking away from contracts” and not responding to customers. Gore then recommended the information be given to the DA’s Office.
“Recovering from the fires has been so hard on people as it is,” Richner said in an interview. The “debacle” with Chiaramonte, he said, “has been salt in the wound.”
Brian and Jacqueline Scott, whose Larkfield home was torched in the inferno, also turned to Chiaramonte to build them a new house. They are one of five fire-affected customers interviewed for this story who expressed aggravation with the builder and provided details of their unpleasant experiences.
“We got through it, and we processed it,” Brian Scott said of the fierce Tubbs fire, the worst in California history at the time. “The pain of going through this has been worse than the pain of the fire.”
“For over a year,” Jacqueline Scott said, “every time I came to the home (under construction), I wanted to cry. Because there was something wrong.”
This was a common refrain among the five customers, all of whom signed contracts with Chiaramonte and say they came to regret it. Four of them have terminated the contracts.
Anthony Chiaramonte, a project manager and son of the company president, said the construction firm came up to Sonoma County to help fire survivors get back into homes.