Protecting Homeowners Through Renovation Education

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My Horror Story – Part 2


We made an appointment with an attorney who told us we had taken more crap from this guy and given him more chances than he deserves – and that we must be extremely patient people. Anyone else would have fired him long ago. But we didn’t know what our rights were; we thought that the contract would bind us and basically it does.

But what we didn’t realize is that he already had breached the contract several times. After advising us, he then checked on his license with the CSLB and right then he pulled up some citations on his record. Citations that were not there when we first checked his license before starting.

And as it turns out he repeated two of the same offenses with us despite being cited by the Board before. One of them was front loading his contracts by taking more than the 10% or $1000, whichever was less. One of the reasons that so many people try to work with the contractor even when they have performed so poorly, because they have your money before the work has been performed.

Our attorney shot off a letter to the contractor citing issues to resolve and a timeline in which to do it in-or else he’s out. Oh yes, and we filed a complaint with the CSLB.

The contractor returns, and as usual we had to track him down. The supervisor came over instead and as we related all the errors and corrections that needed to be made as well as the fact that we are still leaking. The supervisor arrogantly stated that everyone was yelling at him – gee, no one ever offers him a cup of coffee and starts making jokes. Here we are at the end of our rope trying to address these issues and he s being flippant.

Suddenly he states that he’s “going to have to charge us for this and that” and my husband and I stared at him in disbelief and that was it. I said “are you out of your mind??? How dare you come strolling in here when we’ve been having nothing but problems since day one, long before you stepped onto the scene and you say you’re going to charge me to correct for the contractors’ errors??

I was just getting ready to tear into him, throw him right out the window when he goes flying down the ladder (where our stairs should have been nine months ago) shouting “I can’t take it anymore – you deal with him, I’ve had it!” He’s had it?!! We’re ready to commit hari-kari!

The next day we met with the contractor, outline exactly what needed to happen, discussed the attorney’s letter and walk the property to review the items. I remind him of the deadline-6 weeks away. And remember he has my money – for which he has not performed the work – and I’m determined to get the work he owes us out of him along with the corrections. But he abandoned the project before he completed all the corrections.

He reluctantly agreed to address some of them (ONLY because of our complaint filed with the State) -but not the mold. He states, “What do you expect me to do, tear out your walls just to get rid of the mold?” And I told him, “yes I do – you created this mess and mold is a serious health risk which can also destroy the integrity of the structure of the home.” The sooner we address it the less costly and severe it will be.

If he had addressed the water intrusion when we first noticed it, if he had even bothered to cover the house responsibly when it did rain or if had followed the plans in the first place, we wouldn’t be having these problems. He just balked at what I said and he missed the deadline as well. The State’s representative checked in on the progress-I told her nothing had been done.

We met again and pointed out the missed deadline-June 1st, 2000, and that he hadn’t completed the corrections. We also pointed out the engineer never touched the exterior stair plans that he, the contractor, swore up and down would FINALLY get done-unbelievable! This has to be some kind of cruel joke!! I want my plans finished, I want my deck finished, my stairs done, the errors corrected and the drywall done, my house finished! AS PER THE CONTRACT, DAMMIT!

I called the State Contractors Board and left a message with the Enforcement Representative, returning her call. She asked if the contractor was making the corrections. I told her he missed the deadline and he was dragging his feet as usual. Over the next 6weeks-I was on the contractor everyday, trying to get him to complete the items. The deck that failed by the Pro Deck guy, needed to be completed.

Both my husband and I left messages, but the deck guy would not return them. We finally tracked him down and he told us that he was not coming back unless we would guarantee he’d be paid. The contractor would not pay him until HE made the corrections, and of coursehe blamed the contractor. And I told him, “Forget about that, you’re the one who screwed up in the first place and we lost our carpets and damage to the ceiling as a result of your negligence -are you paying for that?” And he laughed and hung up. Real professional guy and par for the course with this unscrupulous contractor. He’s just a distributor for Pro Deck and the company does not back their distributors when something goes wrong.

Now the inspector OK’d the drywall, but only on the new addition. The contractor had to expose a post downstairs to show how it’s being attached, and he’s holding up the go aheadto complete the remainder of the drywall. We heard nothing from him regarding this and when I called him, he complained saying that the inspector should have noted the attachment when they put in a new post-he says they put in a post base and then poured the concrete. He swore up and down that his guys did indeed do it properly. The inspector insisted on seeing it – he balked.

He then attaches a Simpson A34 to the stairs. She says well, then we’ll need to see how those stairs are attached as well. And that means tearing out the stair system to expose the stringer, stairs that have been there for the last 30 plus years. What a stupid move on the part of the contractor!

Now this post is one of the supporting members for the two stories above. I would say that’s pretty important. Over the next couple of weeks the contractor refused to do anything about it-and finally told us that the inspector gave him a verbal over the phone. We knew right away he was lying. The inspector would NEVER give him a verbal without seeing what he did, or I should say, did not do. She couldn’t trust him further than she could see him, and even then she was wary-too many problems with this guy on the project.

As it turns out, after the contractor abandoned the project, we finally had the post lifted and exposed. It was never done properly, which he swore he did to code. It was just nailed and sitting there, an important support for the two levels above. A dangerous, reckless, unethical liar! When we spoke with the inspectors, and related that the contractor told us the City had given him a “verbal OK” over the phone-they said “no way!”

During the month of July we had one guy over to do drywall-randomly, not ever day. We still could not get the contractor to address the post for the inspector to check off nor did he bother to stay in touch with us. We hadn’t seen him since the first part of June.

I asked the drywall guy if he’d seen the contractor-not in 5-6 weeks he said. He stated that the contractors’ busy with some land deal and building homes around a golf course in East County with his dad, the “retired” architect.

At the end of the third week in July we left a message for the contractor; a couple days passed and he hadn’t returned our calls. We then told the drywall guy that we would be out of town the following week and locking up the house while we’re gone. He said he’d let his boss know who would in turn reach the contractor and tell him.

We left town and when we got back we experienced a brief summer rainstorm the first week in August. We checked through the areas that had been leaking to see how things were holding up. The new addition was leaking around the picture window that the contractor had initially installed incorrectly, but that Milgard had supposedly taken care of. And the French doors were leaking like a sieve.

The newly designed pitch of the roof that the contractor created had water coming off the parapet roof right directly onto the doors and windows, the very thing we had designed NOT to occur through our original plan before he botched the job. The leaks were also coming through the room directly below those French doors that were leaking. My husband and I were extremely upset -we just couldn’t take the leaks anymore. What will happen when the next winter rains begin??

We left messages for the contractor to get over to our house and also why hadn’t we heard from him, particularly since getting back in town? We heard nothing-we left another message the next day. Again nothing. I immediately wrote a letter addressing the situation- which I normally did, he always ignored and never responded to- and told him that if he did not respond within a certain period of time, we would then deem him to have abandoned the project. We heard nothing – no phone call, nothing.

We spoke to our attorney who advised us and at the same time I called the State Contractors Board to find out what the heck was going on with our case. We were told in early July that our case was being referred for field investigation but we hadn’t heard back from the State.

Now I’m going to preface the next section with my observations over the last several years regarding the Contractors Board in California. Since 2000 I have attended a number of Board meetings held in the Southern California region where I have participated in and suggested policy changes as well as proposed legislation. With a number of fiasco’s involving consumers and unscrupulous contractors, and the Boards’ inability to function as a consumer protection agency, there was a much-needed change for a new Registrar and staff at the top – meaning Sacramento. A two-year monitoring program focusing on efficiency and better consumer protection was conducted and some of the suggestions out of that were implemented. That, and a change in personnel. As a result of all this, things have improved to a degree. The Board has re-pledged its’ commitment to providing consumer protection over and above the contractors’ interest. The problem, however, is that this sentiment is not shared by many of those at the district levels, where to this day in 2006, many consumers have experienced bias towards the contractor and frankly many cases have been mishandled by staff. This is a “broken link” that the Board has yet to successfully fix.

I cannot speak for States outside of California but the emails I’ve received from those consumers tells me that it is actually worse in some other States than it is here in California. California is still far from giving consumers the protection, and more importantly the perception, that our interests are being protected.

Having said that, I will continue on with my experience with the local district (San Diego) of the CSLB in earlier times. (2000-mid-2003)

After several phone calls to the State Contractors Board I found out whom our case had been assigned to and was given some numbers to call. I reached a woman, the Enforcement Representative who asked how long it had been since we filed a complaint and then stated she should have gotten it by then. She found the file, asked some questions and then set up a time to meet in the next couple of days. We met and then it was determined that an industry expert needed to come in, inspect the home and file his report.

The Enforcement Representative points out to us several violations the contractor committed in his dealings with us, beginning with front-loading his contracts by obtaining more than 10% or $1000 whichever is less.

When I asked about the penalties that would be given, she said that it would be considered a “technicality” and when I pressed further she said it “depended on the contractors’ record”. Oh, so he can break the law a few times before they decide to cite him?? Most people don’t even know they’ve been taken by their contractor and consequently never report it to the State. I wasn’t happy with her explanation and the next day phoned the regional office in San Diego to get more information on this “technicality” code.

I got the supervisor on the phone and when I pressed him on this “technicality” issue and asked where it states in writing that this violation of the Business and Professions Code can be called a technicality, I get nothing – just an annoyed response relating much the same that the Enforcement Representative stated.

As I began to relate the frustrations that consumers experience at extracting any information regarding contractors and what little recourse we have available to us other than to write our local representatives, the supervisor immediately cuts me off and rudely states…”that’s just a lot of fluff and means nothing to me!”

I told him that I didn’t appreciate his rudeness and inappropriate comment-I’m the one out thousands of dollars with this irresponsible contractor and it sure means a hell of lot to me. The red flags go up on how our case is being handled and the way consumers are really treated by the State License Board.

I then called Sacramento and spoke to several of the supervisors there and after apologies given by them, assured me that they will speak to this supervisor regarding the incident. The following week the expert came out to our home with the Enforcement Representative.

Now this Enforcement Representative was another one to contend with. First of all, her attitude was one of rudeness and contention – this, by the way, always comes from the top down, meaning her supervisor – and told me not to speak to the “expert” who had just asked us a question regarding the house. This happened a couple more times and I then stated, “look, he has asked a question that you don’t have the answer to and we do and he obviously needs to know.” We argue and the situation is not good. The expert had to tell this so called Enforcement Representative that it was Ok for us to talk, as he needed clarification. My husband and I both get a bad feeling about this whole thing – particularly the Enforcement Representatives’ attitude.

She also made some comments that really alarmed us. My husband made it a point to tell her that we had just found out the night before that the contractor had been using an unlicensed subcontractor to do the stucco; (he had already done the scratch coat months ago, and he was waiting for our contractor to correct the errors on the project before he could come back).

She IMMEDIATELY and ARROGANTLY stated “SO?” Alarmed by her response, my husband said “so???” What do you mean “so!” Isn’t that something the Board should be concerned with, especially given the problems on this project and we’re reporting this to you as a representative of the State?” She then says rather annoyed, “Fine, what do you want me to do?” This is a perfect example as to why the State has problems with consumer complaints regarding their staff.

Such an irresponsible comment to make, much like the comments we’ve gotten from our contractor. At that moment we experienced first hand the bias that is shown the contractors by the district offices for the Contractors State License Board. We had heard it from others in the past, but it was still shocking to hear it first hand. Oh, but she doesn’t stop there…

A week later when we contacted her regarding the status of the case and the unlicensed subcontractor that our contractor had been using…she replied that “maybe he (the unlicensed contractor) was an employee”. WE then said “No, he doesn’t have employees, we’ve checked and the information is also on your website”. UNBELIEVABLE that she is making excuses for this crook! We tell her again, that the unlicensed stucco contractor told us that he isn’t licensed but that he uses the contractors’ license…he did it a lot for the contractor. I asked her “Why are you making excuses for the contractor??” She then stated, “Fine, I’ll check with him. I tell her that she is clearly biased towards the contractor and she’s going to check with the contractor regarding the truth? What about the consumer truth for God’s sake’s!

Who do we, as consumers, have then? So I sent letters to my representatives as well as to the board in Sacramento. They also received phone calls from me and this went on for the next couple of months. I wasn’t letting up – I was peeved!

We finally received the news that our contractor was being recommended for revocation of his license to the Attorney Generals’ office and the report was rife with the words “shoddy workmanship” and “substandard work”. But it can be challenged by the contractor and dragged out for months on end – and he gets to keep working – and it’s frustrating, yes. That’s the process, that’s the bureaucracy.

In the mean time, we collected information on cost to correct and complete. The surety company was disputing the report on behalf of their contractor. I told them that until we’ve got the entire amount settled on actual costs to complete, I was not ready to submit the report. We went back and forth and I can whole heartedly say to you that they are less than willing to deal with homeowners honestly, regarding the contractor’s responsibility to pay for costs to correct and repair. That is a story in itself.

We bid out several areas of our project but we had to stop the project several times because all these unforeseen problems were popping up. For example, we found that our contractors’ unlicensed subcontractor had applied the scratch and brown coat directly over the old existing coating on about 25% of our house. It’s supposed to be sandblasted off first which is industry standard – and to boot, my husband made sure it was in the contract.

By chance, those bidding on the contract were checking for durability in places and lo and behold, chunks of the scratch coat came peeling off. So then we have to stop everything, get someone out to sandblast, add this complaint of shoddy work to the Board and to the Surety Company and there’s no progress. Just problems, repairs and more frustration.

That same week the unlicensed sub stopped by to check on the scaffolding that had been up for nearly 8 months – which by the way, we found that the scaffolding guy didn’t have a license either!

When we pointed out the fact that we found he had not sandblasted the existing stucco and we had to redo the scratch/brown coat he says, “yeah I know.” He then told us that the contractor told him to skip the sandblasting. The contractor from hell told him it was just a small amount, wasn’t worth it and to skip it. How much more incompetence could we be subjected to??

The day before the stucco was to start, it rained and we found the French doors were leaking yet again-and so was the window that he had originally installed incorrectly. When the stucco crew arrived, we told the supervisor and he stated that he could leave that area around the doors alone, but that he would have to charge us to come back to complete that one section. The window installers told us they would be out to replace the entire window in a couple of weeks.

We contacted the door manufacturer regarding the leaks and after much discussion on their part-a weeks time-they agreed to replace the door by upgrading it, and that they would incur the costs to install and replace. Now that’s great customer service and standing behind their product. They sent out two guys to install the door.

Then, the “unlicensed” scaffolding guy came to our house and introduced himself to us as the person who owns the scaffolding. We had no idea who it was before this and he wanted money for the length of time we had the scaffolding. He undoubtedly found that the contractor was out for good and came sniffing around here to try and squeeze money from us. Fat chance, buddy.

In the State of California, homeowners are not required to pay unlicensed contractors or subs whether you knew they were licensed or not. Well, we found out long after the fact and NO ONE from the contractors’ crew of misfits was going to get one stinkin’ dime from us. (I collected lien releases several months earlier from those who had worked on our project and in fact, towards the end of working with the contractor, we checked with all the subs regarding their getting paid).

The guy makes a lot of threats and we simply told him that he could pick it up in about three weeks. We hired some workers to take down the scaffolding when we were done with it and stacked it nicely, so that the guy just had to pull up his truck and load it up. During our first encounter with this guy we asked for his license number and he got real irritated and said he didn’t need one. He does in California and told him to look it up. He got real angry and said he was going to talk to his attorney – yeah, right – and said he’d be back in a few weeks. Such an idiot.

In the mean time, we experienced more delays as a result of shoddy workmanship and eventually stucco was completed – except around the French doors.

When the guys came to pick up the scaffolding he had a flat bed truck with what looks like a shiny new magnetic sign slapped on the side of it. It has his name and a license number. We ran the number through the CSLB and guess what? It not only belongs to some other guy, but that guy is out of Downey, California-and it’s been expired for ten years! And this is who our contractor did business with??? We’re going into December 2000 at this point -17 months since we started but we were only half way finished.

One of the biggest problems we encountered throughout the bidding this project, was the unavailability or unwillingness of contractors to want to bid on it. Everyone was “too busy” and others didn’t want to get their hands dirty with someone else’s mess. And the contractors’ tell us just that. So this really added to the extended delays along with the problems that continued spring up as a result of the shoddy workmanship.

Around this time we were getting ready to finish the coatings over the Pro Deck that had to be done twice by the contractor; the one that leaked so severely where we lost our carpeting in the living room area and the kitchen walls were soaked. It had been pointed out to us several months earlier – and only a couple of months after the second installation – that the deck was bubbling and that the joints were popping up, not good signs. All three contractors tell us that the system has to be totally redone and the substrate underneath needs to be nailed down at the joints. We can see that and it was just before Christmas and the rains hadn’t really started so we were anxious to get started.

We chose a much better product that required several coatings over a couple of weeks to build up the proper waterproofing surface. We chose Dex-O-Tex and it’s a great surface that many contractors work with and prefer over the lower quality Pro Deck that our contractor from hell had previously chosen. So now that’s another cost to correct that we hadn’t expected and we were eating into our budget to complete the overall project pretty quickly.

It just became for every one step forward, we took three steps back. It was a very frustrating and exhausting 17 months and we were STILL not finished.

We were now half way through January and the rains were becoming more frequent. The French doors and the window that had been leaking the previous year had been replaced in December 2000, but they did not survive the rains in January. The doors seem to be leaking even worse than before and suddenly we were getting water intrusion beneath the window. We also noticed water intrusion on the first level, which we thought had stopped last winter.

So now it was about finding the source of the leaks, correcting those and then the inevitable, which was to bring in a company to test the house for mold. For the last 6-8 months, I had been experiencing rhinitis, frequent sinus headaches and what I believed were allergic reactions to mold.

I also spent the majority of my time indoors in the house working on my computer. The areas of greatest concern were the first level where my office was to be, the kitchen and a bedroom/sitting room. All these areas had leaked for over a year during construction-or I should say, destruction- and continued to leak.

We brought in Robert Cox of JMR Environmental here in San Diego to conduct the testing in our home. Moisture testing, a visual assessment and non-viable air sampling were performed.

The results of the testing confirmed our greatest fear: the lower level room contained exceedingly high levels of stachybotrys atra, the more lethal of all molds and we were instructed to seal the room off following Class 1 abatement procedures (similar to asbestos abatement protocol).

Both the kitchen and bedroom contained high concentration levels of 5 types of molds, “loaded” according to the report. Two of the molds have been demonstrated to cause severe allergic reactions and respiratory problems in individuals, particularly in immuno-suppressed persons. That would be me. The negligent and criminal behavior this contractor had gotten away with is despicable and happens far too often.

And everyone is shouting, “sue the bastard” and with all the evidence and documentation we had accumulated, our chances of recouping our losses were good. But to fork out $25,000 to $35,000 to attorneys to fight the case with all the “experts” lined up, while our house sits in limbo with mold growing by the minute? And what if his attorney was better than our attorney, and we ended up with a big fat zero?? Then there is the arbitration clause that stated that if we loose we had to pay for ALL of his attorney fees as well?

How can the average consumer fight for their rights given these unfair laws that protect the building industry and keep the consumer from fairly getting their due justice? Not to mention the abusive tactics of filing fraudulent liens when a homeowner questions their shoddy work (or lack of work) and files a complaint with a regulatory agency. Why should we the homeowners, pay to clean up after their negligence and shoddy workmanship? How is it that these smarmy guys get away with breaking the laws?

Our legislature clearly protects the building industry with their special interest groups and money that is thrown their way. Their greed drives them to enact laws for the government and by the government, not for the people, by the people. That constitution is long gone. Homeowners everywhere, you need to take a stand and write your legislature, your representatives and voice your concerns and demand that laws are enacted to protect the consumer. It just won’t happen otherwise and complaining to others just isn’t going to change anything.

And if you’re considering remodeling or building in the near future, for goodness sakes, do your homework! Get an attorney to write up a contract or review the one that is presented to you by the contractor. Make an addendum to that contract that protects YOU. Make sure everything and anything you want and expect to be part of the project, is in your contract including damages and who pays for it. With such little accountability on the part of contractors, you need to load that contract as much as you can in your favor.

As for our lawsuit, we settled but it was hilarious because the contractor actually thought he wouldn’t have to pay a dime. When he found out otherwise (and we could hear him and his attorney speaking loudly and rather spiritedly in a private room) he emerged with his face red and he was ticked off. Apparently he also fired his attorney on the spot. I was tickled and just savored the moment! Bastard got what he deserved and justice was served.

I’ll let you in on something that happened just after our deposition of the contractor from hell that I keep saying to this day. He and his attorney suggested that we go with a private judge -one that his attorney picked and liked, mind you – to mediate our case and it would only cost me roughly $1100.

At this point, after being subjected to hours of lies dribbling from the CON-tractors’ mouth, I turned to him and his attorney and said, “I’ve already paid. I’m through paying. It’s your turn to pay. I’m done!” With that said, I left the room with my attorney. God I love it when I’m right!

But here’s the thing with lawsuits in construction cases: you’ll never recover dollar for dollarthe amount of damages you’ve sustained in actual, construction defects-OK…that is, unless you have the bucks to pay for a high price attorney. And most attorneys will tell you that applies to any lawsuit, but then they also have punitive damages, pain and suffering to play with. But forget about punitive damages much less pain and suffering.

Construction defect cases alone are quite complex to try, and the loopholes are many in which the contractor can use to escape accountability and justice for the consumer. Additionally, contracts entered into with the contractor have typically been written for and by the contractor, not the consumer. Unless of course you were smart enough to have your own attorney write up the contract. And even then, interpretations will be challenged. And then there are those judges backed by developers whose allegiance they owe. You don’t want to be in front of that guy.

District Attorneys’ and Attorney General offices are also plagued with corruption as well. I hear from folks throughout the United States recounting their personal battles in the legal system. It’s such a slap in the face to consumers. Yet the only way to change anything is by consumers speaking out for their rights, involving their representatives, the media and anyone who will listen.

And if you do get a judgment that is fair, that contractor will either skip the state, hide assets and file for bankruptcy. Good luck collecting. Then there are attorneys (most) who will press you to settle for far less than initially was discussed as the heat gets turned up and the money trail dies down. As I’ve said before it becomes a no-win situation. I was lucky, but I pushed it because I just knew he could and would pay, though my attorney feared otherwise. Understandable, because most skip town or file bankruptcy.

I hope my story has given you reason enough to do all the background checks I’ve covered on my site. Or if you’re someone who is going through the nightmare that you find information and some solace in knowing you are not alone.

 

Jody Costello

Americas’ Home Renovation Planning Expert

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