ENGLEWOOD — Charlotte County Code Compliance officers will work with customers of HD Custom Homes who have piles of debris strewn in front of their unfinished homes.

The debris was dumped after dozens of subcontractors weren’t paid by HD Custom Homes. After months of no payments, Z’s Disposal of Port Charlotte, retrieved their metal trash containers, leaving the trash behind.

“Ultimately it is the homeowner’s responsibility,” said Shawn Horton, Code Compliance manager for the Charlotte County Community Services Department. “We understand there are homeowners from HD Custom Homes who were left in a lurch. We understand that this honestly wasn’t their fault. We plan to work with them.”

More than 60 homeowners from Englewood, Port Charlotte, Punta Gorda, North Port, Nokomis, Washington D.C., Maryland, Michigan, Virginia, Minnesota, Boston and other states complained their houses aren’t finished before HD Custom Homes closed two weeks ago. Despite abandoning its clients, HD Custom Homes maintains an active website promising ‘luxury’ move-in ready homes with direct gulf access” and soliciting new customers.

Charlotte County recently suspended HD Custom Homes co-owner Matthew Harden’s ability to pull permits after he allegedly surrendered his state contracting license. However, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation in Tallahassee reports his state contracting license is still active through 2020 and his real estate brokers license is still valid. The other owner, Stephen Dukes, a real estate agent, did not return phone calls to the Sun.

Dozens of customers say HD Custom Homes refuses to finish or refund money for home construction.

Some HD Homes customers learned Harden and Dukes failed to pay Steve Zylstra, a 15-year owner of Z’s Disposal. Some containers were left at homes. Others filled with debris were dumped on the homeowner’s property in Charlotte County and North Port and removed.

“We saw a red flag that we weren’t getting paid back in October,” said Zylstra’s wife Chris. “We stopped service to them. We really, really feel bad because this is so unfair to the homeowners who paid HD Homes for the debris removal, but they failed to pay us. No one likes to work for free. We are willing to work with the homeowners if they contact us.”

Chris called Dukes and asking for a list of homeowners’ phone numbers so she could alert them of the problem.

“I told Stephen the least he could do for his customers is to tell them there’s trash left on their unfinished homes,” she said. “Stephen promised he would give me the list. But, he never did. There are about 10 people I still need to call who have Dumpsters at their homes. The problem is they are so close to completion. But now, nothing is being done with them.”

Chris said there’s a two-and-a-half-week waiting list for dump containers.

“The construction industry is booming in South Gulf Cove, Rotonda and North Port,” she said. “Any local Dumpster company is likely very busy. We do understand there are hardships with HD Homes homeowners. We hope to be able to work with them if they call us.”

Linda Harrison, who heads community clean up at the South Gulf Cove Homeowner’s Association, is compiling a list of HD Custom Homes left with debris. She’s turning it over to the county code compliance office.

“On Dec. 1, we had a community clean up,” she said. “We had about 60 volunteers cleaning up. We did remove garbage from areas around some of the HD Custom Homes. I am worried about one home where the HD Custom Homes model that closed. There’s garbage rolled in a plastic construction fence that’s near the lagoon. We don’t want any of this garbage to get into the waterways. We are just concerned about going onto private property.”

Horton said Charlotte County will not immediately fine any HD Custom Homes’ customers. Instead, the county plans to give people about three months to clean up the homes.

“It takes three months or so to go through the code process,” he said. “We have to make contact with the owner. We have to give them time to clean up. If the yard isn’t cleaned up, we would bring the homeowner before a special magistrate. They could be given more time to clean up or a daily fine.”

Horton said if the homeowner doesn’t respond, the magistrate could approve the county to abate the issue.

“We would hire a contractor to clean the property,” he said. “We will lien the home for the amount it cost for the clean up. The magistrate could also fine the person each day the property isn’t cleaned up. We would maybe change that and instead give a one-day fine and just the cost of the clean up. We just aren’t going to tell people they have two weeks to clean up and fine them $500 if they don’t get it done by then. We understand it’s not these homeowner’s fault.”

Horton will accept emails from HD Custom Homes customers.

“If they just want to tell me what’s going on, it will be helpful,” he said. “We will treat them the same as if we contacted them. We will work with them. We know they got a bad turn.”

Emails can be sent to shawn.horton@charlottecountyfl.gov.

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