I-TEAM: Local contractor accused of taking money and not finishing the job

Contractor’s license already on probation for similar complaints

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Local contractor and owner of North Florida Leisure, James Couturier, owes tens of thousands of dollars to several Jacksonville homeowners who said they either paid him for screened patios that were not finished, or he didn’t start the work.

The News4JAX I-TEAM spoke with the customers who said they signed contracts with Couturier between 2018 and 2022 and paid him down payments for the work. Six of those customers have filed lawsuits against the contractor in Duval County court, asking for their money to be returned.

Barry Wills contacted the I-TEAM, asking for help after he said he signed a contract with Couturier in October 2021 to build a screened-in patio in the backyard of his Atlantic Beach home. More than a year later, all he has to show for the $18,000 he paid is a concrete pad.

“This is supposed to be the lanai or sunroom. So, it was supposed to be where the raised concrete is from over here up with two doors,” Wills showed us.

He said North Florida Leisure was supposed to finish the project last January, in 2022. He said he gave Couturier four payments totaling $18,000 toward the job, which was quoted at $28,000. Wills said each time he asked the owner about why it is taking so long to finish the job, he was given different excuses.

“First, it was COVID got him, then it was he didn’t have employees, then supply chain issues, and then he had the parts, the walls, and then the next time I heard, he didn’t have the parts, and then they were loaded on the truck, he’d be there that day,” said Wills.

Those parts were never delivered.

Just as frustrating to Wills, he said, Couturier has avoided his calls.

“He won’t return my calls. He’ll return text messages every once in a while, but not often,” he said. “I actually had a friend call him just to try to get a quote and he picked up the phone right away. So, obviously, he is looking at my number and not answering.”

Wills tells the I-TEAM he has not filed a civil lawsuit against Couturier, but six other homeowners have taken the contractor to court for similar reasons.

Jennifer Waugh speaks with Barry Wills. (Copyright 2023 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

One woman, a local teacher, said she is suing the contractor for the money she paid him after she said she has waited more than five months for him to finish the screened-in porch in the backyard of her Jacksonville home. She is suing for $7,404. She told the court: “I don’t trust him to finish the job correctly and with integrity,” wrote Andrea Anderson.

Eddie and Natalie Reed said they paid Couturier $4,950 as a down payment toward a pool enclosure in August 2021 but said he never did any work. They filed the lawsuit a year later when they still had not had any work done by North Florida Leisure. They said the day of their court hearing, Couturier told them he would pay them $500 a week to return the down payment but said he never actually sent them any money. When they saw him again last month, they said he agreed to pay them $200 a week but said they had not received a payment.

Another homeowner said he gave Couturier $1,200 as a down payment toward a contract to install patio windows at his home in November 2021. He said Couturier requested the money as a deposit for supplies but then said the contractor “ghosted him.” He filed a lawsuit last month, more than a year after signing the contract, when he still had not been paid back.

We wanted answers from Couturier and to get his side of the story as to why he has taken money from customers and not completed the work. We went to his home and knocked on his door. He spoke with the I-TEAM willingly. He also asked for a second interview to explain his situation, so we met with him again. He insisted he is an honest contractor whose business was negatively affected by the pandemic.

We explained we had spoken to the customers who had filed lawsuits against him accusing him of taking money for work he had not completed.

“Well, jobs that may not have been finished, but I have made lots of restitution. A lot of this is because of COVID,” he said. “I think it’s important for everyone to realize the effects COVID has had on business.”

When we asked the contractor about Wills, who said Couturier has avoided his calls and had not done anything more than build a concrete pad in his backyard, he replied, “I did do a concrete patio for him, so I obviously did something for him. I do not avoid his calls.”

Jennifer Waugh's first interview with James Couturier. (Copyright 2023 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

We should point out, Barry Wills texted Couturier when we interviewed him and days later had still not heard from Wills. Couturier did return a message from Wills, after we knocked on his door. The contractor said he would either pay back Wills or complete the work and said the work would be done in 30 days. Wills has since told us he does not trust Couturier and wanted his money back. Wills said Couturier has started to repay him.

We checked James Couturier’s contractor’s license with the state and discovered his license is on probation. Three other customers complained to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation that he took their money too and didn’t finish the work. Records show he was fined by the state and ordered to pay restitution to the customers, which he did. His contractor’s license is now on probation for two years.

The I-TEAM asked Couturier about the other customers who are suing him. He replied, “Well, that does not mean that the lawsuits are founded, are legit and reasonable.”

Maybe so, but according to court records of the six lawsuits filed against Couturier, a judge has ruled against him in four of them, ordering him to pay back the customers. With the other two lawsuits, the contractor has been ordered to appear in court to explain why he took money for work he did not finish.

Couturier asked us for a second interview to explain himself after we knocked on his door. He came to the station to talk with us. He said he is continuing to work to make enough of a profit to pay back the customers he owes.

“I certainly have not ran from these responsibilities,” he told the I-TEAM. “Anything that has been brought before me I have answered to, and appeared for and tried to make amends for it.”

Jennifer Waugh's second interview with James Couturier. (Copyright 2023 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

Couturier also said he has been a state certified contractor for 28 years.

“The only explanation is that I got caught in a situation with delay in projects, delay in construction goods and an increase in prices. All I can do at this point is try to recover from that,” he added. “I am not a dishonest person.”

Hiring a contractor?

There are certain steps you should follow before you hire a contractor, which includes first checking his/her reviews carefully. Couturier’s company, North Florida Leisure, does have a 4.1 rating right now on Google, but within the reviews, there are customers who give him a bad rating. Be sure to read all of the reviews when researching a contractor.

Always check more than one review site. For example, the Better Business Bureau has given North Florida Leisure an “F” rating. Also, if you have a problem with a contractor, be sure to notify the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. You can do this by going to: http://www.myfloridalicense.com/DBPR/. DBPR has the ability to suspend — or even terminate — a contractor’s license.

About the Authors:

Jennifer, who anchors The Morning Shows and is part of the I-TEAM, loves working in her hometown of Jacksonville.