A allegedly unlicensed Santa Monica contractor has been charged with accepting a $15,000 down payment for a kitchen remodeling project and then refusing to perform any work or return the money, Santa Monica city attorneys said.

Hosayn Mandi, owner of New Line Interiors in Santa Monica, was arraigned last month at the Superior Court Airport Courthouse for criminal charges stemming from the recent remodeling job, Santa Monica deputy city attorney Gary Rhoades said.

The charges filed against Mandi and New Line Interiors November 6th include alleged contracting without a license, charging an excessive down-payment, theft and operating without a city business license, Rhoades said.

The count of unlicensed contracting is punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. The other offenses are each punishable by up to one year in County Jail. Additionally, charging an excessive down payment has a maximum fine of $5,000.

Rhoades said the City Attorney’s Office has obtained a court order prohibiting Mandi and New Line Interiors from conducting any contractor business pending trial.

The city attorney’s Consumer Protection Unit filed the charges as part of an ongoing partnership with the Contractors State Licensing Board to crack down on illegal practices by contractors in Santa Monica.

The case against Mandi was the unit’s fifth such filing of 2008, and as the trial-setting hearing is scheduled for January 28th, the case will be one of the unit’s first prosecutions this year.

“The tightening of credit and a worsening economy may create more opportunities in 2009 for unlicensed contractors to take advantage of Santa Monicans who are trying to find bargains,” said Rhoades. “However, the vast majority of our complaints involve not just the lack of licensing, but folks who didn’t get close to what they bargained for. It will be cheaper in the long run if you insist on licensed work.”

The Consumer Protection Unit urges consumers to know their rights with contractors, including:

— the right to hire licensed contractors;

— the right to check a contractor’s license at www.cslb.ca .gov/ or (800) 321-2752;

— the right to pay only ten percent or $1,000, whichever is less, as a down payment; and

— the right to a written contract that specifies project costs, the down payment, a payment schedule and start and completion date.

The State Senate Oversight Committee ranks contractor fraud among the top five consumer complaints in California ñ a problem that costs consumers nationwide more than $100 billion annually, city attorneys said.

For any contractor problems in Santa Monica, call the Consumer Protection Unit at (310) 458-8336.