Charlotte County Commissioner Bill Truex is one builder who is fed up with people looking to build a dream home but getting ripped off in the process.

That’s why Truex is leading the fight locally to get the Legislature to continue its quest to keep dishonest, or incapable, builders on the sidelines. At the same time, Truex says, there has to be more financial help for victims who don’t know the ins and outs of contracts and home construction.

The owner of Truex Preferred Construction, the Charlotte commissioner has made more than one trip to Tallahassee to work with lawmakers like Rep. Mike Grant, R-Charlotte County, in drafting new laws to protect consumers. He championed the cause after HD Custom Homes closed its doors, leaving at least 50 customers with unfinished homes. The people, who were excited to be building a home in Florida, hit rock bottom as they tried to negotiate liens filed by subcontrators and unpaid permit fees — with no home to move into.

Recently, a similar situation cropped up in Sarasota County when Elk Ridge Custom Homes filed for bankruptcy without completing several jobs, many in the North Port area.

“Many builders just do not have the knowledge of the overhead costs,” Truex said, making a mild defense for some builders. “They price homes at thousands less than (more experienced) builders because they are not familiar with the cost of building in Florida with all the (extra costs to hurricane proof homes).”

Low estimates are not the lone issues however. Sales agents who offer free upgrades are a problem, according to HD Custom Homes owners. Too often, however, builders are careless with deposits — sometimes using them to start other homes or other expenses and leaving subcontractors unpaid.

When a builder goes belly-up, there has been little recourse for homeowners. Many of them use life savings to complete the home. Some are just left without a home. Many sue. Many pursue criminal charges.

Legislation passed last year has made it easier to charge builders with fraud, Truex said.

“Before last year, it was very hard to prove intent on the builder’s part,” he said. “It was difficult to prove intent to defraud someone at the point of a sale. Now, the word intent has been taken out and it makes it easier for the state attorney’s office to file charges.

Truex is trying to organize a workshop for prospective homeowners and others who have been ripped off. He said he would like to have someone from the white collar crime division of the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office and a representative from the State Attorney’s Office. The goal would be to educate home buyers on how to be smart about contracts and how to go after builders who commit fraud.

Meanwhile, he is hoping lawmakers will increase the amount taken out of permit fees and funneled into a fund to repay homeowners who lose money in a fraud case. Right now only $1 or $2 are taken from permits on a new home to go into the fund. He would like to see as much as $5 taken from the fee and put into the fund.

“If I can get support from (State Attorney) Amira Fox and Attorney General Ashley Moody, I think our industry would go for $5,” Truex said.

All are great ideas. We applaud Truex and our Legislature for working to protect people looking to build a new home.

An editorial from the Charlotte Sun.