We are the victims of contractor fraud… Pretty much the worst kind!
Wife, Husband and two kids are now living in our garage and sleeping in the neighbor’s house, since our would be forever-home is unsafe, and could kill us all if/when it collapses. We are desperate to save it from ruin!
We hired a well-reviewed contracting company late last year with a bit of due diligence to ensure license was active and in good standing, and liability insurance was in place. Our kitchen remodel was to be pretty extensive, since we were removing an internal load-bearing wall and installing a 15’ folding door for the indoor/outdoor California dream kitchen. We were so STOKED to finally have a solid home-base for our kids; just like we wanted it, although the budget called for a decade of our savings, and most of the profits we had from selling our last home.
It started out great; contractors worked tirelessly for approximately four weeks until they said they were ready for “next phase” this was when the magic would start to happen. This required the next installment of payment (on top of the down payment and material payments we had already provided).
That was when the dream turned to nightmare. Contractor became non-responsive and work pretty much halted. There was virtually no progress for days – then weeks – and then months! We finally realized the truth: the workers would not show up again!
Panic started setting in: they had almost all of our money, and time was running out: house was on temporary shoring/stilts; rain could come in any time now (in the fall), and city permit was about to expire… Whenever we peeled back the layers, reality is becoming more and more grim:
Our house is a death-trap, and we cannot live in it. We have little money to fix it, and what the crew DID do was not demolition – it was vandalism; the engineering has to be redone to ensure the structure can be saved, and it will cost us more from this point, than before the “demolition” even began!
In the meantime, there is no help to get from anywhere, and the contractor will apparently get away with it (except for “possibly” losing his license). We did not do anything wrong, but a criminal con-artist stole all our money and vandalized our home. He gets away with it because it’s “contractor problems”, and we have no recourse! We need a miracle…
If you've had a similar situation please please feel free to comment below and any resolutions you found. Any help at all is totally appreciated and welcomed, we would love to hear about your struggles and journey.
Here's our full in depth story of our nightmare....
August 2017, my husband Anders Lind and I moved our family of four back to Southern California from San Jose California. Although we built a wonderful connect to San Jose, being a native Southern California girl (Los Angeles), I was especially excited to return home.
We worked with my longtime friend and realtor Brandon Caldarella from May to July to find the house we loved and could start our new phase in life. When we found the house on Paseo Barona we knew this was where we wanted to be. However, we agreed that the house needed quite a bit of work before it would be our forever home. We put a bid in and closed escrow August 4th, 2017. We moved in August 19th. We put one hundred thousand dollars in the bank from the sale of our home in San Jose so that we could immediately start a kitchen remodel.
Shortly after our move in, I started my search for a contractor. We were flying blind since we knew no one in Orange County, but we were in a bit of a hurry, since our strategy consisted of unpacking as little into our kitchen as possible, so we could easily tear it down. That meant scraping by with a poor kitchen layout and barely working appliances; stocked with only necessities. After speaking to many companies, we hired a company located in Lake Forest. We had looked high and low for the best company we could find. So, it was important that we do our due diligence checking on the company; internet searches, yelp reviews, etc. We checked Contractors’ State License Board, where the license was active and in good standing (and had been for years), and we verified current and active liability insurance for an appropriate coverage. We got several references for projects, where we could call and visit the owners (we did not go to that length), and we saw countless pictures of projects in-progress and previously finished. This company had the most to offer us and checked out to be one of the best in town. We had considered doing owner/builder, but I wanted to start chasing some of my own interests after being a “mom” for 10 years while the youngest was not yet in full time school. And my husband and I both agreed, that doing the owner/builder thing would be a frustrating 6-months full time job; not worth it. We were glad to pay a 20-25% commission to a contractor in order to avoid those headaches. The advertisements, promises of a full on-payroll crew, quality orientation, and particularly a dedicated project manager where just what we had been searching for.
We were so excited. We finally had a house to make our own with a little cash to get started. We agreed with the company and signed a contract in October along with paying our deposit of $15,000.00. The start date was to begin January 29, 2018.
We were in contract to pay for cabinets prior to job start so they could be ordered in time for them to be placed in the kitchen when ready. First week of November, we got a call from the project manager advising us we needed to get in and approve the designs of the cabinets right away, so they could get them ordered and would not hold anything up. It was on the contract, that $25,000.00 was to be paid out on date of cabinet agreement/approval. We arranged a time immediately for November 10th, 2017. On this day we met with the owner, project manager, and the cabinet designer. We viewed 3D drawings of our semi-custom cabinetry from all kinds of angles, and it was exactly how we had hoped/envisioned. We were stoked! After minor corrections, we approved and paid for the cabinets to be purchased. We asked for a PO when it was ready and we were told, “no problem!” PO never happened. Even after many attempts in asking for it, we to this day have not received any proof that the cabinets were ever ordered/purchased. My husband spoke with the owner on the phone several times in the coming weeks and months, and the owner assured him that “I can’t show you the receipt – we don’t do that – but I’ll send over the PO right away”. He even said, “I won’t take delivery of them [the cabinets] until we are ready to put them in, but I’ll check whether they are ready at the manufacturer”. He also assured my husband “I know you want to make sure I didn’t spend all the money in Vegas, don’t worry, I’ll send you the PO later today”. No PO was ever sent over.
At this time, we were to wait for permits and get started on January 29th, 2018. We had done all that was required of us to get the job started. Well, that never happened either! We went back and forth with the owner on a new start date. We got every excuse in the book. He mostly blamed it on the city, saying they were backed up and it was taking them forever etc. Come to find out the permits were never requested until March. In March (approx.), we received a letter from a company advising us the owner had borrowed money from them and he had defaulted. If we were to pay him any money, it should be paid to them until his amount owed was covered. We of course got very nervous and called the owner, with much concern. He advised it was nothing and he would have his lawyer send us a letter saying so. He said he had made a silly financial mistake that should get cleared up soon. We were finally notified by the project manager in April 2018, letting us know they finally had the permits and we would start the project sometime beginning of May. It was finally scheduled to start first week of May but it was pushed back again to May 6th however, actual start date was May 9th.
A week or so after they started demolition on our kitchen, he informed us that he had filed chapter 7 so he would not have to pay the company back to the company we had received the notice from. He confirmed with us that we were not involved in anyway and would get a letter saying so from his lawyer. Which we did receive from his attorney, on June 11, 2018. Stated: “Owners name, is entitled to direct payment for any amounts that have come due at any point after March 19th, 2018.” The crew worked non-stop until June 14th. On June 14th, we were contacted by the owner and advised, it was time to pay for the second phase of the project, (footings, walls etc.) therefore, he needed the next payment. At this time our house was on temporary shoring, downstairs bathroom ripped out, the load bearing inner wall removed around a large portion of the perimeter foundation, the foundation was floating over large holes/trenches and perimeter foundation was even cut in several locations. In the interior, where our bathroom used to be, there was just large holes cut out of the slab and undermining the foundation for the loadbearing structures. Where our formal living room used to be, there were two large trenches cut in the slab. There was virtually no interior in most of the 1st floor, and a large percentage of exterior walls and stucco was removed. They had cut out a lot of electrical circuits, such that we had no theft alarm, very little lighting and our garage door was not operational. We had no A/C or furnace. Our formal living room was full of the furniture that used to take up the full 1st floor, and that big pile of furniture was covered with tarps for dust protection rendering our formal living room unusable. This was pretty much expected – and we knew this time would come. My husband had pointed out to the owner, before signing the contract, that we would be “totally screwed at this time if he up and ran at that time”. His response, “all contractors will do this, since it’s far too much risk for them if they don’t get the money up front. He assured us that he would not run; that we could trust his reputable company. He invited us to find another contractor willing to front the money – and able to take on a job in San Juan Capistrano in a reasonable time frame – a prospect we knew all too well was next to impossible. If we were to take on this contract, it would involve a certain level of trust – and we had committed already back in October to this very scenario… So, based on the last 5-6 weeks of hard work, awesome progress, and us being so excited about our new kitchen, we did not hesitate much to pay. The owner and his wife were on the phone when I called in my credit card to him for another $25,000.00 payment. He explained to me how the next couple of weeks were going to go on the progress of the house starting the next week. The next week came and we did not see any workers for approximately two weeks. We figured it was normal for contractors to take on other jobs and they would soon return. I started calling him and wondering why things did not happen as he explained they would but he acted like I was crazy because his crew had been at my house and I must have just been gone. Which is nuts because I am in and out all day but never gone long enough to miss a worker for more than a couple hours. Not to mention, there was no sign of anyone being at the house. He would reply to me that the work now was minimal and I wouldn’t notice change. I questioned that and he said I didn’t understand because it was work I didn’t know or understand. He always had an excuse. Much to my surprise, the crew showed up for a couple hours on June 25th. Then we didn’t see anyone until June 28th. One of the two workers came that morning. He was one of two guys that had been working the first four weeks non-stop. He worked all day taking 3 inches off the trenches. Friday the 29th, he returned and worked a few hours and left. This week is documented in text from the owner. I was told, the epoxy inspector would be out the week of the 4th of July but on Monday I got a text that said the inspector had taken the week off last minute. There were text messages back and forth between the owner and I, regarding the house being ready or not. I did not believe it was ready. The rebar was not bent and ready to go. There was more text message from the two of us during the week of July 4th until July 17th, regarding them not working on the house at all. Finally, on July 19th, the owner arrived with the same worker that worked alone on June 28th, and a friend of the owners. The owner and his friend checked around for about an hour and a half. I even made them coffee and talked with them at our table in the garage for a bit so I could get a better understanding of the plan. (which of course was all lies and never happened) That morning the worker arrived first and alone. When I came downstairs and said good morning, he said, “good morning! I bet you are happy to see me!” I said, “yes!” I asked him why he asked me that and he replied, “because we haven’t been here for in a long time.” I found that to be an interesting question and comment. After the owner and friend finally arrived, and they did their looking around, I was told that I would need to prepare for being without water on Monday. (July 23rd)
The morning of the 23rd no one showed up, I made all the kids hurry and be done with water early so we would be ok and no one shows up. At 9:30am, I sent the owner a text, asking about the water and he says, “your good for water today.” He also says the one-man crew was coming but he never showed. Later that night, I was messaged that by the owner, that his friend that was with him the last week, would be at our house around 6pm with the A/C company to look at moving the A/C unit. That happened and we were not home. No one again the Tuesday and Wednesday, I decide to try and find his new office that he told me he moved his show room too. (the owner, at this point has told us that he closed his showroom to move to another location. He is one by one telling me that all his employees have screwed him over somehow and they one by one have been fired) I am starting to get more and more nervous about this guy and his company. I couldn’t find the new office so I called the owner. He was so nice and talked to me for so long making me feel like he was making all the plans for our project. He explained that the action was about to get started next week. He had the epoxy guy in place and the concrete guy and by the following week he would be starting the walls to the house, and we would be needing our panel door soon, blah blah blah. He said there was nothing at the new office but he was happy to share the address with me, I got a text immediately after we hung up the phone with the address. At 5:20 that evening he sent a message saying the A/C guy was coming at 7:30am the next morning to move the unit out of the way. That did happen on Thursday July 26th.
Out of the blue, early Friday and Saturday morning (July 27th and 28th), two guys I had never seen before walk into my house and start trying to bend rebar. I introduced myself and asked them if they worked for said company. They could barely speak English and didn’t really act like they knew who I was speaking about. They worked so hard for those two days and I thought we were back on track. However, they didn’t do much. There was no change to the project except some bent rebar. (which again I found interesting since a couple weeks prior in text messages, the owner accused me of not knowing what I was talking about and tells me the rebar is done and ready to go with the epoxy) The following Monday came and went, as did Tuesday and Wednesday. During our phone conversation the past Wednesday, the owner told me he would not be answering his phone staring Friday to Sunday because he was going out of town again to camp. (which he had said and done this many times already since the start of the project). So, I should not to try to call him until Monday. When I didn’t have anyone arrive Monday or Tuesday like he said they would be, I got concerned again. When Tuesday came I was pissed. I had had enough of his stories and lies. I wanted to talk to him and go over things and have him put them in writing like he had been promising. I also wanted to discuss our being on vacation the following week and what to do to keep our house safe since we still had no progress, like walls to keep people out. (we already had racoons in the house) But for two days I called and he never answered. I left a message saying I was not happy that he had been blowing so much smoke up my skirt and I demanded a call back. Wednesday morning, he sends me a message that says, Wednesday was his Monday and he needed to take two days off like everyone else. Once again, he says he will update me but it never happens. Thus, when I get an update, the promises from the update never happen either. He also says demanding voicemails don’t work with him and if he is taking days off work, he does not have his phone. I was so mad at this point. The guy tells me he is shutting down all day Friday, AGAIN, basically after work on Thursday so he could take a three-day weekend, AGAIN, and then tells me he took his two days off work Monday and Tuesday. I could not speak to him again! I handed him off to my husband to deal with at this point. And my husband got all the same stories. After July 28th there were no more workers arriving at our house at all, I did not speak to the owner or anyone else from this company any time after August 1st and our house still sits on stilts with huge trenches all around the house outside and inside. Essentially no change to the state of our house since that last payment on June 14th.
The owner arrived with someone (we could hear voices) on August 14th for about 30 minutes early in the AM. (The same day we returned from a redeye flight from our vacation) We were so out of it we did not get up to see what was going on. At this point, we have still continued to ask the owner why there has been no progress on our job but we were treated like we were a bother and could not be talked to. We got every excuse imaginable, via text, why they were not progressing. The owner would never instigate a conversation with us. It was always started by my husband or me and we would get an answer when he felt he wanted to answer and it was always an excuse on the other end. Days, weeks, would go by and there would be no answer or return call or text. We have not seen anyone from this company since August 14th. (for the 30 minute visit – He could have been just getting something out of a tool box he had left at our house)
We went through the hot summer living primarily in our garage with no escape from the heat. We used our upstairs but nervously since it is on stilts/temporary shoring with our slab dug up underneath us. In September, we spoke to an attorney. She went over our contract and advised us of all the legal issues/violations in the contract. We learned that our city permit was up in just a few weeks, and the only way to extend it was to order an inspection – and we were advised our house was NOT ready for an inspection. We also learned that when the rains come (it’s getting towards rainy season), our trenches would fill with water, and that the clay rich ground here would not allow for the water to escape. It would sit in the trenches and undermine the ground underneath the foundation and slab and possibly cause a total loss of the structure. We were also advised (by the structural engineer on the project) that the temporary shoring is NOT AT ALL even near safe for earthquakes, and that even a minor earthquake would likely level our home, and kill any occupants. We had to not spend another day in the house! We were so appalled to learn this after living in the house (not thinking about the earthquake hazard) for months with our two young kids. It dawned on us, that we could not afford any more patience with this company. We had to have another crew save our house from ruin IMMEDIATELY. However, our attorney advised us, that we were still contractually bound to this company, and that no other worker could touch our house legally!!! This put us in straight-up panic mode. We immediately moved out of our home, and began formulating a letter (via our attorney) to the company in order to terminate the contract to enable us to save our home. The letter basically told them that they were in material breach of contract, that the contract was illegal to begin with, and that he had to immediately either produce the cabinets that he allegedly had purchased, or refund the monies for the cabinets (as well as the latest payment installation). The contract at that time was thus null and void. We have since been working frantically to save our home, alas we have not yet secured it at this time of writing (10/12-2018). It is hard to find qualified help on a short notice, and we are yet again forced into patience (which we don’t have much time for). Our house – in the meantime – is at constant risk of caving in.
I have cried for weeks, sick to my stomach and completely vulnerable and invaded by this company. We continued to ask him for our cabinets since January 2018 and/or a PO, we have gotten nothing.
For several weeks now, we have been sleeping at our neighbors and eating and preparing meals in our garage and on the BBQ. We are headed into winter and we have no heat – and no access to our fire place. Being in the garage will be freezing, and we will likely have to put money (we now don’t have) towards temporary space heaters as a remedy.
We have our attorney giving us advise to resolve this, I have put a claim against his bond, and I have reported him to the contractor’s board. The contractors board advised me they won’t even look at the case for 30, 60, 90 to 100 days from the day they receive it. We have very little money left to fix our house. (we have $71,000 paid out to in total to this company) This could take years before it is resolved, and it is likely to have cost us about a decade of savings. This is no way for a family with two children ages 11 and 7, to live. We are relieved from the contract with them so we are able to move forward with a new contractor at this point.
There is no help anywhere:
The contractors board have rules in place but there is so little they can do to protect each party involved in these types of cases. Contractors are getting away with people’s money all the time. I do believe this goes both ways. Contractors have their share of people not paying but I have been told approximately 90% of contractors with a license are ones you can NOT trust to do an honest job. It takes a lot of time for the contractors board to deal with all the complaints they get. I was told they get many complaints per day! This is crazy! WHY?? Why is this ok? In the end, perhaps they will suspend or revoke his license – that’s it!
Attorneys won’t work on contingency, because there’s not likely any money to be had (even with a judgement). And we cannot afford (and it won’t be financially recommendable) to hire an attorney on retainer. So, we are screwed and the contractor gets away with taking peoples money and ruining lives. He will just change his DBA and apply for a new license and start again.
Superior court will only offer free assistance up to $25.000,00, so there’s no help from that side.
Police department advised us to file a police report for fraud, but what good will that do us (we will of course to this to attempt to save others from this predatory menace to society).
The D.A.’s office defers to the police report. Who can help??
Something needs to change! People are losing their homes, families are hurting, children are put at risk and so much more because of this business.
We could say much more but this it the best description I can give you without showing you our situation. My family is in great need of a miracle! Please help us change this mess we are in and figure out a way to change the way this business is ran.
The following photos are from our house at present time. The first seven pic are from the last day of work in June. The remaining pics are from September, 3 months later. No progress. If anything, we have more debris and holes. This company has left behind over $4000 in debris in our yard, that should have been taken to the dump months ago.
Sincerely and Thank you for reading our story,
Rochelle, Anders, August and Lotus Lind
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