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Build it Back Uses Firm Accused of Defrauding Sandy Victims Out of $1.1M

By James Fanelli | February 22, 2017 11:06am
 Robert Combs moved out of his house in Rockaway Beach in October in anticipation of it being lifted through the Build It Back program. There hasn't been much work on it since.
Robert Combs moved out of his house in Rockaway Beach in October in anticipation of it being lifted through the Build It Back program. There hasn't been much work on it since.
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

QUEENS — A father-and-son construction firm has been getting paid to elevate homes in the city's Build it Back program despite accusations they scammed more than $1.1 million from New Jersey victims of Superstorm Sandy, according to sources. 

Last month the New Jersey attorney general and that state's Division of Consumer Affairs filed a civil fraud complaint against Paul Zaidinski, his son, Paul Jr., and their company, Shore House Lifters, saying they took part in "unconscionable consumer practices."

The complaint says they performed substandard work on Sandy victims' homes and, in some cases, abandoned repair projects altogether.

Despite the Jan. 26 complaint, the city didn't stop contractors from using Shore House Lifters to elevate at least six homes in the Rockaways to prevent them from future flooding, according to sources.

Shore House's services were being used by companies in a section of the Build it Back program that allows homeowners to choose their own contractor. In turn the city reimburses that contractor for the work.

The largely federally-funded Build it Back program helps Sandy-struck homeowners rebuild, renovate or elevate their houses.

Shore House Lifters has already completed the elevation of two homes for the contractor Malbro, sources said. The company was also scheduled to lift four homes for the contractor Volmar, according to sources.

The Mayor's Office of Housing Recovery, which oversees Build it Back, said it began reviewing Shore House Lifters weeks ago after learning of the attorney general's complaint.

However, a source said that Housing Recovery sent out a memo to Volmar on Tuesday instructing the company to halt the use of Shore House. The memo came a day after DNAinfo New York inquired about Shore House.

"We have strong oversight mechanisms in place that make us confident that our funds are used appropriately," said Amy Peterson, director of Housing Recovery.

“If any contractor is found guilty of any wrongdoing, we will withhold future contracting opportunities and pull them from projects they have yet to commence."

The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs said it had received 51 consumer complaints about Shore House Lifters. In total, New Jersey homeowners lost more than $1.1 million in federal relief money to Shore House Lifters.

The attorney general's civil complaint also accuses Shore House Lifters of:

• Shoddy work, including improperly disconnecting water and sewer lines, poorly repairing front staircases and spilling concrete on a back deck and driveway.

• Faulty elevations that delayed owners from returning to their homes.

• Performing repair work that was not up to housing codes and not adhering to engineering plans

• Abandoning home elevation projects and failing to complete work.

• Not providing promised refunds after homeowners canceled contracts.

Shore House Lifters did not respond to requests for comment.

The Build it Back program has been under scrutiny for cost overruns, shoddy work and completion delays.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who inherited Build it Back from Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration, admitted in October that the program would not meet his goal of completing all homes by the end of 2016.

That same month, in order to expedite work, the city hired Lou Mendes as a deputy commissioner in the Department of Design and Construction to oversee the multi-agency program.