The Kitty Bungalow Charm School for Wayward Cats — a nonprofit that takes feral cats off the street, sterilizes and socializes them, and puts them up for adoption — had been fundraising and saving for three years for a new facility, one that would allow would-be adopters to walk in and meet the cats. The old, cage-free facility is just 400 square feet. The new (also cage-free) space, on Martin Luther King Boulevard between Western and Arlington, is 2,000 square feet and has a storefront facing the street.
The new spot needed renovations, so Shawn Simons, who runs Kitty Bungalow, hired a contractor. But she claims the contractor, Jason Bernstein — whom she would later learn had lost his license and filed for bankruptcy — was able to complete only half the work she paid for.
"Almost everything that he touched, we had to redo," Simons says. "We’re deep into the reserves at this point. I don’t know how we’ll get through another month."
She says she agreed to pay Bernstein and his company, JLB Construction, $15,000 up front for a roughly $33,000 job. It was December, and she needed to get the new facility up and running by the springtime, in time for kitten season. She would later learn that the up-front fee might have been illegal — contractors, by law, are only allowed to take up to a 10 percent down payment for a job.
According to Simons, the contractor did one task well. "There is one wall that he put up ... that is finished correctly," she says. But she also claims that he installed faulty wiring and improperly installed a gate. She also says she partially paid for a roll-up door that was neither delivered or installed. She says she paid Bernstein about $25,000 in all, for what she estimates is $13,000 of work.
Bernstein did not return our calls requesting a comment.
According to records provided by the Contractors State License Board, JLB Construction received two citations in 2016. In the first, Bernstein took a $20,000 down payment for a $78,000 job — an excessive downpayment, according to state law. The contractor also was cited for failing to pull permits and failing to obtain workers' compensation coverage for his employees. According to the State License Board: "After 10 weeks, work was not progressing in a satisfactory manner so complainant had to terminate the contract. [Bernstein] told our investigator that he had problems with other projects and was not able to devote time to the [complainant's] project."
JLB was ordered to pay $15,000 in restitution and fined $3,000. When Bernstein didn't pay the fine, his license was suspended, in March of this year.
The second citation was for a similar set of infractions — excessive down payment, failing to pull permits, failing to obtain workers' comp coverage.
According to publicly available documents, Bernstein filed for bankruptcy in July 2016. At the time, he claimed he owed dozens of creditors, including the IRS and the Contractors License Board, a total of $119,604.
Bernstein and JLB also have been sued several times. One of the people who filed a lawsuit, in small claims court, later dropped the suit and says be believes Bernstein had an honest desire to complete the job. The man asked that we not print his name, in the hopes that the contractor will pay him back.
"I really don’t think he’s intentionally trying to screw me over, because he keeps coming back to continue working," he says. "I don’t think he’s a contractor who makes his entire career out of screwing people over. I just think he’s really bad at managing his finances, and he grossly underbids things."
Simons, too, was willing to give the contractor the benefit of the doubt, at least initially.
"Then as time has gone on, and I saw he’s done the same thing to others and he’s lost his license, I can’t really give him that benefit of the doubt anymore," she says.
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Kitty Bungalow opened its new facility last weekend, and Simons says it went off without a hitch.
"We had 150 people eating cake and cuddling kittens," she says. "We worked so hard to get the place completed. It looks great, but it doesn’t change the fact that we’re in deep debt right now. No one sees the pile of bills on my desk."