The NBC10 Boston Investigators are getting the attention of state lawmakers and prompting changes on Beacon Hill.
The results come from our "To Catch a Contractor" series, which uncovered one business owner's trail of destruction across New England and exposed flaws in the system meant to protect consumers.
"What it brought to me was there was really an opportunity to fill some gaps," said Sen. Susan Moran, who co-chairs the legislature's Joint Committee on Consumer Protection. "You've been able to change the contracting world going forward for the better."
While some legislative proposals might have an immediate impact, our reporting continues to raise more questions.
Get Boston local news, weather forecasts, lifestyle and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC Boston’s newsletters.
One topic we're exploring is whether there is too much bureaucratic red tape preventing consumers from accessing the state's Guaranty Fund, which pays claims up to $10,000 to homeowners who have been ripped off by a contractor.
Mary Rickinick and her husband, Paul, certainly have an opinion about that.
"The system is broken," Mary told me outside her Westminster home.
Back in 2017, the couple wanted to transform their screened-in porch to a year-round space where they could enjoy a lakefront view at their "forever home."
However, after installing a couple beams under the deck, the contractor never returned to finish the project. Mary felt like she'd done her homework by getting references and even checking the state’s website to make sure the contractor had a current license and registration with no complaints.
"So we had no idea anything was going to go off the rails," she said.
The couple eventually filed a complaint with the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR) and made the trip into Boston for a hearing. The contractor did not show up.
A hearing officer found several violations and fined the contractor more than $3,000. But that did little for the Rickinicks, who were out more than $9,000 on the abandoned project.
When they tried to access the Guaranty Fund, the couple learned they did not qualify because of a technicality. The reason? Mary had dropped off the permit and paid for it at Westminster Town Hall.
"It's absolutely ridiculous," Mary said. "It really needs more oversight. It's the law and I can't do anything about it, but it's just wrong."
Some of the people who hired Steve Docchio with Xtreme Living Pools & Construction know the feeling.
As we've previously reported, court records reveal a stack of lawsuits and small claims cases filed against him. Some homeowners have even secured six-figure judgments.
However, records show there have been no successful Guaranty Fund claims against the contractor, whose registration was permanently revoked after our series of investigative reports.
Charles Legg was one of the homeowners who won a significant civil judgment against Docchio after the contractor abandoned a project at his Falmouth home.
Legg filed his claim in August 2020 and is still waiting for a decision about whether he will qualify for the max payout of $10,000.
"Hard to believe, but true," Legg wrote when I last checked in with him over email.
Records we obtained show the Guaranty Fund is only paying out about one-third of the revenue it brings in each year to consumers who lose money to contractors.
As a result, the balance has more than quadrupled from roughly $750,000 in 2016 to more than $3.3 million last year. The average payout to consumers during that time period was about $7,750.
Contractors are supposed to reimburse the Guaranty Fund when they are the subject of a claim that has been paid to a homeowner. Since 2018, records show only 30% of the amount has been collected.
"Your reporting, again, has brought to light some problems with the system that should be corrected," Moran said. "The process needs to be reformed so that it's more accessible to consumers."
Moran and her colleagues have already moved to fix other issues we highlighted, like the inability of people with secondary properties to file a complaint against a shoddy contractor.
Beth Ferraro pursued criminal charges against Docchio after she’d spent $80,000 on a failed pool project. However, her complaint to OCABR was rejected because she doesn't live at the Cape home year-round.
"Why are you allowed to be scammed and ripped off because it's your second home?" Ferraro asked.
Other proposed changes include more vetting of contractors when they apply or renew their registration. A draft of the legislation would include questions about a history of civil judgments or discipline in other states.
Those questions would presumably have flagged Docchio, who is barred from working as a contractor in Rhode Island and Connecticut.
In what's currently a labyrinth of online portals, the legislation would also call for a one-stop shop for consumers to review complaints, judgments, disciplinary actions, and a list of all contractors whose registration has been revoked or suspended.
Positive steps, but still too late for the Rickinicks, who had to hire another company to finish their sunroom after losing the $9,000. They agree the current system is in need of renovation.
"It's a mess!" said Mary. "It doesn't protect consumers at all."
Ryan Kath can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.