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Harford-based builder Clark Turner Homes fined over $700,000 for violating consumer protection laws

A Harford home building company was ordered to pay approximately $700,000 for failing to begin or complete construction of homes, the Maryland Attorney General’s office announced.

The office found that Clark P. Turner and Clark Turner Homes violated the state’s Consumer Protection Act, New Home Deposits Act, and Custom Home Protection Act, according to a news release, by accepting approximately $1.2 million on behalf of at least 15 people for homes the company did not completely build or build at all.

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For that, the Belcamp-based company will have to pay $559,000 in restitution to consumers, $75,000 in civil penalties, and more than $72,000 in costs, according to the office. The final decision was signed by William D. Gruhn, Chief of the Consumer Protective Division.

The order also imposes “cease and desist provisions to prevent future violations,” by Turner and the company.

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The Consumer Protection Division of the Maryland Attorney General’s Office kicked off the proceedings on March 21, 2019, alleging Clark Turner Homes violated laws protecting new homeowners in contracts it signed with them between 2014 and 2015.

According to the case’s final order, the company did not protect customers’ deposits on new homes, failed to pay subcontractors for their work and incurred more expenses for consumers by failing to adhere to contracts, resulting in liens on elements of the homes’ constructions. Clark Turner Homes said it would take steps to protect those deposits — like holding them in escrow, for example — but it did not, according to the order.

Turner made excuses for the delays in construction after receiving customer’s deposits, ranging from illness to alimony payments, according to the order. When customers asked for their money back in writing, they heard nothing from Turner, according to the document.

Those unprotected deposits melted away when Clark Turner Homes filed for bankruptcy in November 2015. Those who sought remuneration in Turner’s bankruptcy proceedings often received only a fraction of what they had paid to the home builder in deposits, according to the document. The trustee of Clark Turner Homes’ estate said that money had gone toward paying operating expenses, according to the documents.

“The Respondents made representations to consumers that their deposits would be protected, that their homes would be completed, and that subcontractors would be paid, but as a result of Respondents’ actions, the consumers’ homes were not completed and subcontractors for whom Respondents had received payment were not paid,” the order states. “Contrary to their legal obligations, Respondents used consumers’ payments for purposes other than construction of the consumers’ homes.

In a statement, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said his office would continue to pursue cases like the one against Clark Turner Homes for consumers’ protection.

“Purchasing a new home is the largest investment most people make in their lives. My office will pursue sanctions against builders who treat consumers unfairly and fail to protect consumer deposits,” Frosh said. “Consumers should make sure that any deposits are protected by an escrow account, bond, or letter of credit.”

The decision can be appealed, according to the final order, and generally appeals must be filed within 30 days of the decision.

Multiple phone numbers associated with Turner’s offices were disconnected. A message left with the attorney who handled his bankruptcy proceedings was not returned.

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