Fourteen months after a burst pipe ruined walls, ceilings and appliances in her Blackridge home, Jana Woodruff is close to getting her kitchen finished. It would not have taken so long, she said, had the restoration contractor G.S. Jones charged her more than if she’d lived somewhere else.

“Mathew Poole, the estimator, sat right here in my living room and said, ‘we base our prices on zip codes,’” Woodruff said. “That is the basis of my complaint with the state Human Relations Commission.”

Redlining in real estate is the practice of refusing to sell property in certain neighborhoods to minorities even if they can afford it. Charging people a higher rate for a given service based on where they live is also redlining, and is a Civil Rights violation.

DUCT TALES—Jana Woodruff shows where a burst pipe came down the walls into her basement and damaged carpeting, woodwork, ductwork televisions and computers. She says a contractor illegally overcharged her, and has a case pending before the PA Human Relations Commission. (Photos by J. L. Martello)

Some of the charges she considers excessive included $850 for a dumpster, which was never delivered and $350 to caulk a bathtub.

Woodruff, who used to sell real estate before an anxiety disability forced her to quit, admits she might have replaced the contractor before it burned through most of her initial insurance disbursement for the damages. But the company’s quick initial response to her crisis, she said, clouded her judgment.

“I didn’t think about getting someone else. I was down on my knees thanking God that the problem was getting fixed,” she said.

But upon further review, that initial response was curious. Woodruff’s pipes burst inside a top floor wall late a night on Jan. 10, 2010. Unable to turn off the valves, she called the Wilkinsburg fire department. They arrived about 10 minutes later, turned off the water. But it wasn’t the fire personnel who did this. It was employees from G.S. Jones.

“They came with the firemen. There were two fire trucks, fire Captain Hale, two firefighters and five men from G.S. Jones,” said Woodruff. “Then two weeks later Captain Hale called me and asked if they were still working. I thought that was odd, why would he care?”

They were working, but for not much longer. After they received more than $6,500 of her initial insurance disbursement, Woodruff planned to fire them. But after the meeting in her house, she relented, telling them she wanted a detailed cost estimate on the work they were to do. She never got it, and Lewis received another $6,500.

She fired them in March and filed her complaint with the HRC. She also complained to the Better Business Bureau. In the interim she went to Lowes to replace the stove microwave and kitchen cabinets damaged in the flood.

When the contractors left they damaged her yard and left debris behind. Woodruff had most of the remaining restoration done by a Lowes’ contractor. She finally had a hearing with the commission Feb. 4.

“I tried to resolve this with G.S. Jones directly. I only want $6,812 back for the overcharges and damage, so I can finish this. It’s 14 months and I still don’t have a kitchen,” she said. “A HRC ruling in my favor would allow me to sue in Federal Court where I could compensatory and punitive damages.”

Lyle Wood, investigator for the HRC, said he cannot discuss the details of the case but does not anticipate his investigation continuing much longer.

When contacted for comment, G. S. Jones co-owner Scott Jones, declined comment. His attorney Richard Saxe was away from the office all week.

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