Julie York, co-owner of Weekend Anime, at her store on Jan. 11. The Yorks gave $125,000 to a contractor for an expansion on their store. He started the work, but then took off with the money, they say. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The contractor seemed like the real deal.

His references checked out. He showed proof of insurance. His prices were reasonable, but not suspiciously low.

Within a few months, though, Julie York realized something was wrong. The expansion of her Westbrook gaming shop, Weekend Anime, had started. The chimney was knocked down, the contractor had started to dig the foundation and the walls were wrapped.

When she took a closer look, the workmanship was shoddy, and after the initial progress, things were moving at a snail’s pace. What she thought was a contract was actually merely a price quote, and the contractor kept asking for more money while making excuses for why more work hadn’t been done. Then he stopped responding altogether.

By the time York put the pieces together, it was too late. The contractor was gone, there was just a hole in the ground where the concrete was supposed to go, and she was out $125,000.

York joins a growing list of Mainers who say they’ve been ripped off by fraudulent contractors and left in the lurch by a system that does nothing to protect consumers. Since 2018, the Maine Office of the Attorney General has received nearly 4,000 complaints about home construction contractors. Fewer than 200 of those complaints have resulted in restitution.


Christina Moylan, assistant attorney general and chief of the office’s consumer division, said there are likely far more complaints that never make it to the attorney general’s office.

Mediation with the AG’s office is on a voluntary basis. The issue is civil, not criminal, so there’s little police can do. Lawyers’ hands are often tied as well. Consumers can sue, but contractors can also declare bankruptcy, which often leaves homeowners with nothing but expensive legal fees.

The system is entirely reactive and the remedies it provides are almost always inadequate, Moylan said. The burden falls entirely on consumers like York.

“Once you find out, you’re screwed,” York said. “That’s when you find out there’s no one who will help you.”

Adding to the problem is the fact that contractors don’t need a license in Maine, although a bill headed for a work session in the Legislature next week seeks to change that.

The bill, L.D. 1929, would require contractors to be licensed if they perform work that totals more than $7,500, and would set up a licensing board to oversee new requirements, including insurance coverage and education.


Maine already requires plumbers, electricians and even interior designers to be licensed. Bill sponsor Rep. Tiffany Roberts, D-South Berwick, said contractors working without official licensing requirements is a “glaring consumer protection issue.”


Many Maine contractors say change is needed. Too many people are being taken advantage of, they say, creating more work for contractors who already have their hands full. There’s no way for consumers to determine who to trust.

Meanwhile, the need for contractors is only going to increase.

Maine has the oldest housing stock in the country. High housing prices are causing more people to consider remodels or expansions, rather than buying new. Houses are getting more technical with more energy efficiency requirements. In 2022, state lawmakers passed a law that aims to significantly increase housing density across Maine. State officials estimate Maine needs to build 84,000 houses by 2030 just to accommodate the existing population and the people expected to move to Maine in the next six years.

“We need to preserve the housing we have, we need new housing, and we have consumers who are, either intentionally or not, being taken advantage of,” Roberts said. “Generally speaking, I’m not an advocate for more regulation. But when it’s gotten to this point, there needs to be professional standards, there needs to be a competency requirement and that’s what licensing does.”


Opponents of the bill say some of the same arguments for requiring a license illustrate why now is not the time to do so. Maine desperately needs more housing and other construction and adding in a new, time-consuming requirement will only create a bottleneck when the industry should be focusing on ramping up.

Roberts is not the first person to go to bat for licensing. The issue has been before the Legislature at least seven times in the last 15 years. Thirty-five other states have licensing requirements for general contractors, according to the Maine AG.

York believes a licensing requirement could have saved her from a mistake that will take her 15 years to pay off.

“Googling clearly didn’t work. Calling their references clearly didn’t work … if we had licensed contractors, the city could have given me a list of contractors I could trust,” she said. “What is the downside?”


Maya Bogh, president and co-owner of Great Northern Builders in South Berwick, supports the idea of licensing contractors and thinks it would protect consumers and help advance the industry. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Maya Bogh, president and co-owner of Great Northern Builders in South Berwick, is sympathetic to people who have gotten swindled by bad actors or who have simply gotten in over their heads. She has seen it many times in her 21 years in the industry, and she fears that without licensing, the problem will only escalate.


“We want to make sure there is a minimum level of qualification for home builders and remodelers,” she said. “Houses are far too complicated now with energy requirements, they need to be climate stable … there’s so much technical knowledge that is required that it’s simply unsafe to allow that to be handled by someone who is not qualified.”

Bogh agreed that the pressures on the industry will increase with the current housing crisis, but she argues that’s all the more reason for licensing.

“It is never a good idea to say we can’t do this properly because we don’t have time,” she said. “Just throwing up housing with not necessarily trained professionals is not going to be a benefit to our state.”

There are myriad other benefits to licensing, she said. Some of the education components could go beyond building and teach about professional communication. It would help contractors stay up to date with current laws. Fees could potentially be used to help homeowners who do get taken advantage of.

“I think we’ve talked about this long enough. It’s time to up our game and show that as a state we value professionalism in this very important industry.”

Christian Pratt, owner of Pratt Builders LLC in Gorham, agreed that licensing would create a layer of accountability that doesn’t exist now.


The electricians, plumbers and HVAC technicians he hires are all licensed. It makes sense that he should be too.

Pratt is advocating for some sort of tiered system similar to what plumbers have. They start as apprentices, then move up to journeymen and eventually to master plumbers.

That could work well for contractors, he said, and would help protect consumers, not just from bad actors, but also from people who take on more than they can handle. Different levels could help differentiate between someone who is well-qualified to build a deck and someone who can handle an entire renovation. This is especially important as still-increasing housing prices motivate people begin to invest in remodeling and expanding their homes, rather than selling and relocating.

“We see a lot of homeowners that hire underqualified and incapable contractors because there’s no way to vet them,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of work fixing other people’s screwups.”

Darrell Thyng-Worrell keeps running across homeowners who have been taken advantage of, and it’s bogging him down. He and his crew at Platinum General Contractors in Lebanon are already stretched thin with their own work, let alone the requests to fix the subpar or unfinished work of other contractors.

Having to take a class, a test, pay a fee and possibly get a background check is not high on his to-do list. But he still thinks it’s important.


“Those contractors that don’t want (licensing) … What are they scared of?” he said.


Gage Williams isn’t worried about being held accountable. He’s proud of the business he’s built with KCM Construction in Arundel. Like others in the industry, he sees more people being taken advantage of. But he doesn’t think licensing is the right call.

“I don’t know if that’s going to prevent it. It’s just going to piss people off, and it’s definitely going to cost something,” he said. “It’s another way for them to stick their hands in our pockets. When is enough enough?”

Les Fossel, owner of Restoration Resources in Alna and a former state legislator, told lawmakers in May that there are just as many dishonest customers as there are dishonest contractors.

“If you require contractors to disclose any relevant legal proceedings against them, then the same standard should be required for homeowners,” he said in written testimony.


Fossel said the bill should consider grandfathering current contractors and allow others to prove their competence based on real-world experience. He estimated that he’s done over 100,000 hours of work. He’s taught real estate agents, assessors, appraisers and inspectors and has taught a field course for homeowners through Maine Adult Education.

“I shouldn’t waste six hours in a course to qualify as a contractor from someone who doesn’t begin to know as much as I do,” he said. “This is insane.”

Andy Cashman, representing the Maine Association of Realtors, said in testimony last year that Maine businesses and residents are hurting financially and a licensing requirement would only burden both with higher costs. He said town code enforcement officers currently ensure that work complies with the law, so there is no imminent public safety issue.

“Adding a licensing requirement would only exacerbate the housing shortage by forcing good contractors out of the industry or posing as a deterrent to entry for some,” Cashman said.

The Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation also testified against the bill, arguing that licensure is not the appropriate way to address concerns or achieve public protection. Commissioner Anne Head said that, if anything, the bill suggests the attorney general’s office needs more resources to handle complaints. A licensing requirement, she said, would not adequately address the fact that unqualified people are doing substandard work, or that licensees are more qualified than those without, and it does not expand current enforcement mechanisms for protection or recourse.

Roberts, however, stressed that the bill is not in its final form and still requires work. Ultimately, the goal is to pass something that both protects consumers and doesn’t hurt small businesses, she said.


“When you’re establishing new professional regulations, you don’t want to hurry it,” she said. “On the same note, the Legislature has been talking about this for a long time.”


Julie York, left, Ryan York and their daughter Diana talk to Julie York’s students from South Portland High School, including Moumin Abdi, far right, at their store on Jan. 11. The Yorks, co-owners of Weekend Anime, gave $125,000 to a contractor for an expansion of their store, but the work was never completed, they say. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Julie York just wants to see some accountability. She’s lost any hope of getting her money back, though she said her case is being investigated by both the attorneys general’s offices in Maine and New Hampshire, where the contractor is based.

She’s slowly working to pay back the loan they took out on the house. In addition to the store, she’s a teacher and some weeks, she logs 70 hours.

She’s had a hard time forgiving herself for what happened.

But it was difficult to find a contractor who would take on her store expansion – they were too busy, the project was too small, the project was too big. When she found someone who would do it, she was elated. She and her husband refinanced their house, took a picture with their team of workers and announced the good news on social media.


She wrote the contractor three checks. The first was the deposit, for $40,000. The second was $4,000 for permits. Then he told her that because of the pandemic, materials were expensive. She wrote him another check for $80,000.

“That’s where you feel like an idiot,” she said. “It is the worst feeling.”

But York’s story has a happy ending.

Over the last 20 years that the Westbrook store has been open, York and her husband have worked to create a safe place where people can be themselves, she said. They built a community. And the community has rallied around them.

The Yorks raised nearly $50,000 and the city of Westbrook provided a $15,000 matching grant. A “Magic the Gathering” player helped dig the foundation. Beehive Builders in Turner stepped in to finish the construction. The lawyer who agreed to take their case to officials in Maine and New Hampshire is a role player.

“It was very much like everybody coming together to help me out when we were at our worst,” York said.

Weekend Anime completed its expansion in October 2022.

“In the end, we have a really dorky space that a lot of people love. It’s very whimsical and it makes you smile,” she said. “I can laugh about it now. I don’t have to cry about it.”

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