West Allis porch contractor problem, woman awarded damages

Most home improvement contractors are reliable. Some are not.

One West Allis woman turned to small claims court after her project went south. On June 8, she was awarded double damages – but will she receive that money?

Back in October, Amy Zutavern hired Dan Zweck to replace her front porch.

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"I wanted to make it look nicer and safer for when people came over to visit," said Zutavern.

Zutavern ended up with no front porch, at all. From fall to spring, she couldn’t use her front door after she says Zweck tore out the porch and didn’t come back for weeks.

Amy Zutavern's porch in West Allis missing after contractor trouble

"Just kind-of a shell of a porch," described Zutavern. "It got very frustrating that I was basically left in the wind."

Zutavern says she met Zweck on Facebook. After meeting in-person and exchanging Facebook messages, she paid about $5,200 down for the porch and some indoor projects.

When her work wasn’t finished by the end of the year, Zutavern requested a refund. She didn’t get one. In March, she filed a case in small claims court against Zweck.

In May, Zutavern hired a different contractor to build a new front porch. She’s happy with the second contractor’s work, but wishes she’d done more vetting of Zweck.

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"I’ve learned that he’s done this to multiple people," Zutavern told Contact 6.

In 2018, a Waukesha County Court convicted Zweck of theft by contractor, a misdemeanor. One of his previous businesses, Brew City Snow & Landscape, has an "F" rating with the Better Business Bureau.

Appearing in Milwaukee County Court, Zutavern’s attorney asked for double damages from Zweck, who didn’t show up. Zutavern was awarded $10,000 plus all costs and fees.

Under Wisconsin home improvement laws, consumers may sue for twice their amount of damages plus any court costs and attorney fees. A strong case for double damages involves deception.

"A contractor can’t do such things as misrepresent what they’re going to do," said Jennifer Barwinski, Zutavern’s attorney.

Milwaukee County Small Claims Court

Barwinski said unhappy consumers who want their money back can try small claims court, which can be more effective than pressing criminal charges.

"Small claims is more of a streamlined process. It’s a quicker process," said Barwinski.

Zutavern got the maximum judgment a small claims court can award in Wisconsin, but there’s no guarantee she’ll receive her money.

Contact 6 visited Zweck’s house but no one answered the door. He did call Contact 6 once and exchanged some text messages. He texted that he thought his court date was the following week. He didn’t respond to Contact 6’s final request for comment.

Some papers still need to be processed by Milwaukee County Courts before Zutavern’s judgment against Zweck is finalized.

It’s never guaranteed that a contractor will pay off their small claims judgment. However, Barwinski said not paying a judgement can harm their business’ reputation or come back to haunt them if they apply for a loan.