INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Unhappy homeowners across Indianapolis say they were ripped off by a contractor but taking him to court didn’t help recover their money.
Gary Bennett contacted CBS4 Problem Solvers in late July, while his case was pending in small claims court.
Bennett hired a man named Tony Hurt, with Indianapolis Downtown Contractors, this past March because he needed a new furnace and air conditioner. He handed over a $1,600 down payment, but he said Hurt only showed up to his house once, when he brought a furnace and partially installed it.
“He did not come back, he did not. Just kept giving me the runaround,” Bennett said.
Bennett decided to hire a second company to install a different, larger furnace. He then paid a third company to put in a new air conditioner. When CBS4 Problem Solvers visited Bennett in early August, the original furnace Hurt brought to the house was sitting in a hallway.
“I ended up spending about $3,500 more,” Bennett said.
CBS4 Problem Solvers’ Jill Glavan was in court on August 16, when a judge awarded Bennett a $2,900 judgment after Hurt didn’t show up for the court date. Bennett had asked for his $1,600 down payment back, as well as the different between his contract with Hurt and what he paid the two other companies.
Since then, Hurt has not paid the judgment, and CBS4 Problem Solvers found out this isn’t the first time.
Another judge awarded William Bentley a $5,500 judgment in August of 2018. Bentley hired Hurt that April to install a geo-thermal heating and air system in a house he was building. He said Hurt walked the house and marked locations with spray paint, dropped off some materials, but then didn’t come back.
“He would repeat a cycle of saying that he was interested in getting going and he just needed to finish one or two things and he’d be right there. ‘Right away, yes sir, no sir,’ that sort of thing, and then he wouldn’t show,” Bentley said.
A city spokesperson told CBS4 Problem Solvers that Tony Hurt hasn’t been licensed as a contractor in Indianapolis since 2008.
City records also show that in 2014, the city issued a stop work order on one of Hurt’s projects, then took him to court. As a result, he agreed not to perform work without a permit.
Court records show that Hurt reached the agreement with the city in August 2016, nearly two years before Bentley hired him.
CBS4 Problem Solvers reached out to Tony Hurt for comment. By phone, he said that he was still willing to pay back Bentley.
“He found somebody else to do the work, which is no problem, but he should’ve returned all of my materials and he could’ve received his money,” Hurt said.
Bentley provided text messages that he says show he did try to return the materials, but Hurt never picked them up. One text from Hurt’s phone number says, “I’m working on a time and day so I can retrieve and redeem you 100 percent of your money.”
According to court records, Hurt and Bentley met with a judge last November and Hurt agreed to pay the $5,500 judgment at $705 a month. Bentley said he never received any payments.
“The judgment still stands and I can re-pursue it, and I think I might,” Bentley said.
According to court records, small claims and civil courts have awarded judgments in six other cases against Tony Hurt since 2011. Hurt told CBS4 Problem Solvers that he paid all of them, either on his own or through bankruptcy, but only one of the cases shows payment in the court records and four of the six plaintiffs say they have not been paid.
Hurt’s Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which was opened in 2009 and closed in 2015, shows that he paid $60,000 to creditors in that time, but none of the recent cases are listed among those creditors.
In Gary Bennett’s case, Hurt claimed he properly installed the furnace. He also said that he didn’t return to Bennett’s house to finish the job because Bennett threatened him.
Hurt told CBS4 Problem Solvers that he did not file a police report, but he did document his concern in a text message provided by Bennett. The text, sent on April 17, says in part, “You stated that you were going to have someone shoot me and my house. You will be getting a refund.” Bennett denies making those threats.
“He’s trying to use that against him paying me, saying I’m threatening him which I haven’t,” Bennett said.
“This man can threaten me and tell you that he did and I’m still the bad guy,” Hurt said.
Moving forward, Hurt said he has been sick and plans to notify the court to ask for a new hearing in Bennett’s case.
“I missed that date due to medical issues and it’s verifiable, you know, with my doctor who wrote the letter for me to send to the court,” Hurt said.
Hurt did provide CBS4 Problem Solvers with a letter that is dated a month before the August 16 hearing where a judge gave Bennett his judgment. When asked about the city’s claims that he doesn’t have a license, Hurt said he does not plan to work anytime soon.
William Bentley said his case taught him a valuable lesson about hiring contractors.
“First thing first, see if there are any suits against them. Second thing, you can check with the city to see if they’re licensed. If one or both of those things are incorrect, run,” Bentley said.
As for Bennett, he’s still trying to get his money back and gain back his faith in the system that he wishes could’ve stopped this from happening in the first place.
“Did he got to court on me or did I go to court on him? Because it seems like he’s walking away freely and I’m still trying to get this thing solved,” Bennett said.
If you suspect a contractor is operating unlicensed, you should contact the Indianapolis Department of Business and Neighborhood Services, or the Mayor’s Action Center at 317-327-4622.
You can contact CBS4 Problem Solvers if you have a problem you’d like us to look into at 317-677-1544 or ProblemSolvers@cbs4indy.com.