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Small Claims helps homeowners
Thursday, 21 December 2006

Homeowner takes contractor to court
District Judge Sandra J. Zemgulis' courtroom on South Side Easton resembled "The People's Court" on Tuesday afternoon. Besides the judge, the scene included a plaintiff and homeowner, Bea Kemmerer, and a defendant and home-improvement contractor, Ronald A. Schmidt. Skip past the TV cameras and lights or studio audience -- unless you consider several people who attended on Kemmerer's behalf and one curious action line columnist.

Homeowner takes contractor to court

 
Thursday, December 21, 206
 
 

District Judge Sandra J. Zemgulis' courtroom on South Side Easton resembled "The People's Court" on Tuesday afternoon.

Besides the judge, the scene included a plaintiff and homeowner, Bea Kemmerer, and a defendant and home-improvement contractor, Ronald A. Schmidt. Skip past the TV cameras and lights or studio audience -- unless you consider several people who attended on Kemmerer's behalf and one curious action line columnist.

Kemmerer paid Schmidt, who owns R.A.S. Construction in Easton, $775 between Nov. 30, 2005, and Jan. 21 for him to perform work around her Williams Township home, including installing a replacement window and tending to assorted repairs.

Her beef: Schmidt failed to complete the work or reply to her requests that he return. So she filed a complaint in Zemgulis' office, informally known as small claims, because of the amount of money involved.

A testy Schmidt countered during the hearing that he purchased a replacement window for Kemmerer and planned to install it. He said he could never find Kemmerer at her home, despite five attempts.

"What do you want me to do?" he asked Zemgulis at one point.

Schmidt also accused Kemmerer of making false statements and more than once told Zemgulis the complaint was "bogus."

"It's over a year ago and he is telling me he was at my house five times?" Kemmerer asked. "It has upset me that I was taken over like this.

"All I want is my money back, and I will be happy."

Zemgulis granted her pre-holiday wish, issuing judgment against Schmidt to pay Kemmerer the money plus court costs or $868.95.

Action Express took interest because Kemmerer persisted to small claims court and we know of at least one other issue involving Schmidt and a consumer that could also wind up heading to court.

Sidney Golden hired Schmidt earlier this year and paid him $10,000 to perform repairs on his rental property on Easton's South Side.

"He didn't start; he didn't buy new materials; he never delivered anything; he did nothing," said Golden.

"I am not going to let him get away with it."

He has filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Bureau of Consumer Protection and notified the Northampton County District Attorney's Office.

When we spoke to Schmidt recently about both cases, he said his health prevented him from performing the job, but he told Golden he would get to it.

"Then he canceled," Schmidt said.

He also said he had to buy materials, including about 40 windows, so he needed a hefty down payment.

Action Express asked Schmidt for written replies on both Kemmerer's and Golden's cases so we could give copies of his rebuttals to both readers. We never received them.

More important: The lack of Schmidt's reply to these consumers has left them frustrated.

Small claims court, "The People's Court," might ease that frustration.

It is not always foolproof; Schmidt has 30 days to repay Kemmerer, or he can appeal the judgment to Northampton County Court. He told us Wednesday he plans to appeal the decision.

In addition, there is no guarantee of collecting a judgment and it has dollar limits: You can sue in small claims court for up to $8,000 in Pennsylvania. The limit is $3,000 in New Jersey.

Still, it can be a good consumer tool toward settling a dispute, if implemented as Kemmerer did. She presented her case with a mostly level-headed explanation, backed with photographs and documents.

So you have a problem? Action Express can help. Please WRITE to: Action Express, P.O. Box 391, Easton, PA 18044-0391. Include your name, address, phone number, and copies of relevant documents.
http://www.nj.com/columns/expresstimes/salamone/index.ssf?/base/columns-0/1166678635317000.xml&coll=2&thispage=1

 
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