This is the season for driveways. Sealcoat them. Repave them. Repair them.
Drive through just about any neighborhood and you’re sure to see paving crews working and signs advertising their services.
That’s how Jian Zhou found General Jersey Paving and Masonry.
Zhou saw the Manville company working in his Belle Mead neighborhood, so he hired the firm to repave his driveway.
Let’s say it upfront: Zhou made mistakes as a consumer. He paid cash, he didn’t check references, he didn’t look for a proper contract and he didn’t research the company until it was too late.
But the company — which should know what rules it should follow per state law — was far from on target with this transaction.
Zhou said workers put asphalt on top of his existing driveway on May 2.
“My old driveway was leveled well with other areas,” Zhou said. “Now the whole driveway is taller than the garage.”
After the job was done, Zhou said, the surface was not even and dents were everywhere.
He said he asked the contractors to make the driveway even, perhaps by putting down more materials where it was lumpy.
A worker who had an Irish accent — Zhou didn’t know his name — covered the whole driveway in a white sand, which stuck to the driveway, Zhou said. The worker said the sands would make the driveway better, Zhou said, and the dents would be less obvious.
“He requested cash, and I was foolish to have paid the money in full,” Zhou said.
It rained the next day, and water built up in the driveway, with puddles everywhere, Zhou said.
So on May 4, Zhou said, he called the company and requested repairs. General Jersey was working on Zhou’s neighbor’s driveway — more on that neighbor in a moment — so a contractor came to inspect the work at Zhou’s house.
“The contractor claimed that it was too late to fix since it was about 5 p.m. when they finished my neighbor’s driveway,” Zhou said.
Zhou had to go to work the next day, but his wife, who was six months pregnant, said she could handle it. But that didn’t go well either, he said.
He said he expected the workers to remove the light-colored sand and make the driveway even with new asphalt. Instead, the contractors cut a line through the asphalt from one side of the driveway to the other.
And then they stopped.
Zhou said his wife asked them to finish the repair.
“The contractor said they did not have to fix it since the money was paid,” Zhou said his wife was told. “They said that if she wanted to sue them, just go ahead to sue them. And then they were gone.”
Zhou called the company when he returned home, he said. He said they promised to come back the next day, but the company and its workers never showed.
He said he called again on May 10, and an appointment was set for May 13.
But again no one showed, Zhou said.
When he called that day, he said, he spoke to the worker with the Irish accent, who said the weather wasn’t good for paving.
The worker said they couldn’t come on Saturday, so Zhou said he asked about Sunday.
“He said that Sunday is a holy day,” Zhou said. “I asked: ‘So do you need to go to the church?’ He answered yes. I asked him if he is a Christian. He said yes. Then he promised to come on Monday. I said, ‘Since you are a Christian I will trust you,'”
But that Monday, May 16, no one showed.
Zhou left a message on May 17, but no one returned his call.
On May 18, he called again, and he said he spoke to the worker with the Irish accent.
“He does not remember anything about my driveway,” Zhou said. “My driveway is still cut open and damaged.”
Zhou said he and his neighbor both called the company on May 20, and workers were scheduled to come on the next day, which was a Saturday.
“They did not show up,” Zhou said. “I called them and they have blocked my call.”
Zhou filed a police report on May 23, and that’s when Zhou learned the General Jersey was operating with an expired Home Improvement Contractor registration.
The officer recommended he file a complaint with the Division of Consumer Affairs.
That’s when Zhou called Bamboozled.
STATE VIOLATIONS, NO ANSWER
Zhou’s neighbor Barry Daniele hired General Jersey on the same day as Zhou, and he wanted to pay with a check.
“They said it was cash only and would not finish, leaving my driveway half complete until I made the full payment,” Daniele said. “When I pointed out the problems with the driveway, they promised to return the next morning to fix. They did not.”
The company didn’t return subsequent calls, he said, and after comparing notes with Zhou, Daniele tried to call from a different number. This time, someone answered, he said.
“They promised to come out and fix my and Jian’s drive the next morning, but did not show,” he said. “General needs to be stopped and restitution made.”
We took a close look at Zhou’s timeline and the $3,000 invoice from General Jersey Paving and Masonry.
There were several problems.
Most notable was that the police were correct. The company’s Home Improvement Contractor Registration had expired two months before the work was done on Zhou’s home.
Contractors may not work without the a valid registration, state law says.
You can see if a contractor is registered or if it has any complaints against it by calling the Division of Consumer Affairs at (973) 504-6200 or (800) 242-5846 or you can check online.
Here’s a guide for doing your own public records searches.
Consumer Affairs had no complaints against General Jersey, and the Better Business Bureau didn’t have a listing for the company.
Zhou was never given a contract. Written contracts are required for jobs over $500.
The customer wasn’t given any information about the company’s liability insurance policy or how to contact the insurer, which is another violation of state law.
Public records show the company had no lawsuits or judgments against it, and state records say it’s owned by Russell Morris.
We reached out to General Jersey to see if it would stand by the two-year guarantee on Zhou’s invoice.
A man who identified himself as John — and who had an Irish accent — answered the phone. We asked for Russell Morris, and John said he would have Morris call us back.
But no one called, and no one answered any of the daily messages we left on two numbers associated with the company over the course of two weeks.
Before publication, we tried one more time, leaving a message at one of the numbers. On the second number, it seemed, our call was blocked.
Zhou has since filed a complaint with Consumer Affairs.
“These people are doing illegal business,” he said. “They cut my driveway open and then never came back.”
If this company has done work at your home, send us a message atBamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com.
We’ll let you know what happens.
Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller atBamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. FindBamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Stay informed and sign up for NJMoneyHelp.com’s weekly e-newsletter.