Nevada State Contractors Board News Conference

Steve Marcus

Homeowner Barbara Ojito stands by an unfinished back patio with her disabled brother Julio Ojito during a Nevada State Contractors Board news conference at a home Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. Ojito hired an unlicensed contractor to do work on her house but the man did shoddy work and never finished the job, she said.

Barbara Ojito had been looking forward to having a shaded patio built on the back side of her East Las Vegas home where she and her brother, Julio, could sit and relax outdoors.

She put her faith, and about $8,000 in cash, in a man she met at a church she frequented. ¶ The work began around December 2022. By September 2023, the man had disappeared with Ojito’s money and left her home with more problems than it had before the project was started, she said.

“I was a victim of hiring somebody that doesn’t have a license. … Don’t hire anybody off the street like I did, even though I knew this man for years, but he took off with the money after I paid him off,” Ojito said. “Every time I have to open my window or my doors, I have to look at this. … It makes me very sad because we never got to enjoy this.”

Ojito, 65, has lived in East Las Vegas since March 1996 when she purchased the property. After living there for more than two decades, she was almost done paying off the home and was excited to add a patio that would allow her and her brother — whom she cares for because of a disability — to enjoy their backyard.

After meeting Alfred Martin Lagunas at her church about a decade ago, Ojito asked if he would be willing to work on the wall and gate in her front yard. She said the work he performed at that time was fine, which is why she approached him in 2022 about building the patio in her backyard.

During the nine months of construction, Ojito said Martin Lagunas kept asking for more money, didn’t pay some of the men he hired to help on the project and made a mess of her backyard. She filmed multiple encounters with the contracting crew and shared it with the Nevada State Contractors Board, which investigated the case and handed it over to the courts.

Martin Lagunas is scheduled to appear at 8:30 a.m. March 11 in Las Vegas Justice Court on a misdemeanor charge of engaging in a contractor business without a license, according to court records filed Jan. 27.

Whether he appears for his hearing is unknown. Neither Ojito nor the contractors board has been able to find Martin Lagunas since the day he left Ojito’s house in mid-2023.

“I’m stuck with this situation right now where I don’t have any more money to finish the job,” Ojito said. “I lost thousands of dollars. I went through hell, back and forth.”

The crew constantly asked for “money upfront” to buy supplies such as cement, Ojito said, but they refused to give her a receipt. They also broke a kitchen window, banged a hole into the wall of her house and, while working on shingles for the patio roof, created a leak in her bathroom, Ojito explained.

Click to enlarge photo

An unfinished back patio is shown during a Nevada State Contractors Board news conference at a home Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. Homeowner Barbara Ojito hired an unlicensed contractor to do work on her house but the man did shoddy work and never finished the job, she said.

She said the contractor ceased contact with her in September, and she hasn’t heard from him since — leaving an unfinished porch in the wake and a ton of stress for Ojito.

She says the porch looks like it’s decades old because of the poor quality work, and many of its features are useless.

The two ceiling fans installed don’t work, and water leaks onto them when it rains; bare wires pop out of the wall where exposed outlets sit; the lights underneath the porch’s side arches don’t work; a line of outer lamps are differing in color; and concrete squares that line the top of the porch’s wall have all popped off “with just a finger,” Ojito said.

The stress caused by the incomplete project has also manifested physically with Ojito. She said the stress she endured from what happened caused her to have a stroke that nearly cost her the sight in one eye, plus she’s been seeing an internist for stomach issues she believes were brought on by stress.

She isn’t the only victim of Martin Lagunas, who previously has been convicted for contracting without a license. He could face a maximum penalty of up to a $10,000 fine or up to a year in the Clark County jail, said Randy Escamilla, public information officer for the Nevada State Contractors Board.

Escamilla said the Nevada State Contractors Board received “hundreds of complaints every year” from across the state about problems with unlicensed contractors.

“We want to remind all homeowners to always hire licensed contractors,” Escamilla said. “This is a particularly egregious case … and what we want to do is prevent something like this from happening again.”

The board also recommends that consumers check the contractor’s license at its website or with the Better Business Bureau, not make final payments until a job is done and only put down a 10% deposit or no more than $1,000 for jobs.

Consumers should get an estimated completion day and details of the work to be performed in writing, the board additionally advises. Any changes must be agreed upon by both the contractor and homeowner.

Nevada law requires all construction workers, including contractors, be licensed through the Nevada State Contractors Board. There are over 7,200 licensed contractors within Clark County, according to the Nevada State Contractors Board’s database.

Escamilla said the Nevada State Contractors Board often sees unlicensed contractors who “use inferior materials, perform poor workmanship and may not carry workman’s compensation insurance.”

“When a licensed professional is needed, obtain at least three bids, check references, and make sure your contract is as detailed as possible before signing. Don’t let payments get ahead of work performed and never pay in cash,” said Margi Grein, an executive officer with the Nevada State Contractors Board.

In order to be licensed, prospective contractors must register their business with the secretary of state’s office and submit an application with a $300 fee, according to the board. They must also pass United States industry exams that document their knowledge, skills and abilities — like the business and law exam, and any trade tests required for their contractor classification. A background check has to be done, and financial responsibility must be proved, as well.

Single-family homeowners who hire contractors licensed by the Nevada State Contractors Board are provided protections, including access to up to $40,000 from the Residential Recovery Fund in case the job goes wrong, Escamilla noted.

Ojito and Escamilla urged other homeowners to only hire licensed contractors, even if they cost more.

“Please don’t let this happen to you; hire somebody who’s got a license,” Ojito said. “Don’t make the same mistake I made.”

The Nevada State Contractors Board keeps a directory of actively licensed contractors online.

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