SOUTH GULF COVE — Tammy LePoer said she cried every day for two months.
The Virginia resident traveled to Charlotte County to describe how she paid $40,800 to Harden Dukes Custom Homes toward her dream house, and now all she has is a $150 building permit.
“My husband is a disabled veteran who spent 21 years in the Marine Corps. His pension is $1,200 a month,” she said. “Every month for nearly three years, he paid $1,200 to HD Homes, and we have nothing. They’ve stolen our money. Then had the nerve to threaten to sue us for $15,000 in lost profits after they refused to build our house.”
LePoer and her husband, Lee, met with more than 50 others at a home in South Gulf Cove, and most had similar stories to tell. They met on social media and decided to gather in person Friday to share their complaints about HD Custom Homes and its owners, Stephen Dukes and Matthew Harden.
They’re also sharing plans to get help from county and state building and law enforcement officials.
The LePoers had planned to move from Virginia after Lee retired from his job in law enforcement two years ago. Instead, their property on Impala Circle remains vacant. They hired an attorney and say they’ve paid $5,000 so far to fight HD Custom Homes. They also filed reports with local and state agencies.
The couple documented $40,800 in payments to HD Custom Homes in a 98-page letter to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. The payments include $895 for administrative fees, $200 for energy calculations, $500 for additional color session fees and more than $9,894 in “marketing commissions.” They also paid $4,800 in commission to a real estate agent who the couple said “refused to help” after them HD Custom Homes wouldn’t start the job.
The couple is staying in town to testify Thursday before the Charlotte County Construction Industry Licensing Board.
They won’t be alone.
Charlotte County Building Department officials said they’ve received complaints from dozens of HD Custom Homes customers and numerous unpaid subcontractors throughout the region. Many subcontractors filed liens against the homeowners after HD Custom Homes failed to pay them for work they did, documents show.
HD Custom Homes claims it has built about 600 homes in the past few years. Currently the builder has 61 permits in Charlotte County, documents show. Their models closed recently, but the company website is active with contract solicitation and the promise of building dream homes.
On Thursday, Charlotte County is filing two charges against HD Custom Homes for financial mismanagement and misconduct.
County officials estimate customers of HD Custom Homes financial mismanagement resulted in $919,000 in liens the homeowners are now responsible for after paying the builder for sub-contracted services including roofing, pools, concrete, Dumpsters, flooring, painting, cabinetry, windows, doors, sidings and appliances.
Mike Katz said he is one of those homeowners. Katz said he has $100,000 in liens against his house, which only is not much more than four walls right now. He paid $187,000 to HD Custom Homes for concrete, fill dirt, walls, rafters, and other work, and said none of those sub-contractors were paid.
“I’m 75 and have to do it (finish building the home) myself,” he said.
Gregg Higgins, 61, also planned on retiring after he built his $360,000 home in Port Charlotte. The retired U.S. Navy veteran says he paid $343,000 and an additional $15,000 in upgrades to HD Homes. He said he still doesn’t have tile, doors, stucco, a pool or numerous other contracted amenities in his unfinished house.
“I drained my retirement account,” he said. “Since I can’t sell my home in North Port, I will owe $200,000 to the IRS. I’ve had to take out a $500,000 loan to finish building the house I was supposed to move into this month.”
Higgins said he’s angry.
“I hope Stephen Dukes and Matthew Harden become famous,” he said. “I hope everyone knows their names.”
“Mr. Dukes indicated he doesn’t have the means to pay for the contracted work,” Mullen-Travis said. “The county cannot prevent HD Custom Homes from pulling permits because he is a state-certified contractor. Only the state can pull his license.”
Anyone with a complaint can speak for five minutes at the 6 p.m. Thursday meeting at the Murdock Administration Center, 18500 Murdock Circle, Commission Chambers Room 119, Port Charlotte. The complaints will be added as evidence and passed on to a state investigator.
On Monday, the HD Custom Homes website was still active. The site promises a new model home, The Islander, coming soon. The two builder’s bios about their years in the business and vision for customers were recently removed from the site. When calling one of the two numbers listed on the site, the mailbox is full with no room to leave a message and the other is Duke’s number. Calls by the Sun to Dukes went unanswered Monday.
Sun Staff Writer Anne Easker contributed to this report.