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Whole subdivisions in the Watson and Denham Springs area are flooded Saturday.

Advocate Staff Photo by PATRICK DENNIS

DENHAM SPRINGS — The compliance director of the state's contractor licensing board said the agency is doing everything it can to keep up with the number complaints that have poured into the office since the floods of last year.

"We are smoked. We are covered up. We are doing everything we can," Brad Hassert told about two dozen people at a meeting Thursday night.

But he also repeated several times that the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors has limited authority to police the quality of work contractors do, to speed up jobs that are moving slowly or to go after contractors who have pocketed more money than the work they have performed.  

"We can't get your money back. We cannot make them repair your home, or fix anything they've been reluctant to fix already," Hassert said.  

He said the board has the power to address a contractor's license and issue fines. He recommended residents with other kinds of problems find a lawyer or go to law enforcement.

But homeowners gathered at the community meeting inside Dutch Physical Therapy brought many of the kinds of issues Hassert said the board can't handle. While a few aired potential licensing concerns, more claimed they were charged for overhead costs on work that wasn't done, aired suspicions contractors were using their money for other jobs, claimed their contractors were taking too long to finish a job and voiced claims of theft.

Several declined to give their names for comment but spoke of trouble getting law enforcement interested in their cases and being referred to the contractor's board.

"A lot of what you all are upset about and you are telling me today about are criminal issues that I don't have any jurisdiction over," Hassert said.

He told the group he understood their desire for the state to protect them.

"And I agree that they should and the mechanisms are in place to do that. I just can't make everybody do what they're supposed to do," he said.

Hassert added that many law enforcement agencies are as overwhelmed as the contractor board. A contractor's use of money from one job on another job, for instance, is a crime known as misapplication of contractor payments, but it can be hard to prove.

One man said he wished he could hear on the news that the state was trying to "turn the heat up" on contractors and investigating these problems.

"The problem that you got is you're dealing with crooks, and you're dealing with people who don't care and they're dishonest, and I can't make anybody be honest," Hassert responded.

Other concerns related to the speed of a job and payments for the job, which he said amount to a contract dispute that the board can't get involved with.

"What we do get a lot complaints about, what we do find we can't help folks with is once you signed a contract, you're now indebted to your contractor to follow through with whatever you've agreed to," he said. "We often get complaints from contractors and from homeowners, and they're the same, but they're opposite if that makes any sense."

The contractor complains the homeowner is holding out, even though the job called for under the contract has been finished, Hassert said. The homeowner complains the contractor has not finished the job under the contract terms, even though the contractor got paid, Hassert said. 

"That becomes a total civil issue between two parties," he said.

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.