Saturday, March 8, 2008

Down The Drain

This featurette validates the truth behind the statement "when bad things happen to good people."

Let's table the validity of my goodness for now and focus on the facts. I can assure you this was one heckuva ride that resulted in numerous "WTFs", clenched fists and head-thunks levied against the wall.

It was May, 2005 and we had just purchased our newest project: a 1920s house that had been foreclosed on twice back-to-back. It had been completely vacant for a year and the previous owners had cherry-picked most embellishments out of the place (except the home's battered soul, which was in need of a RedBull booster shot). The front yard's grass was a lovely shade of dead while the back yard looked like a neglected swampland.

I was ready for the challenge after a relatively successful eight-year relationship in my first home - a 1950s "cottage" in the Lakewood area in Dallas and Joe eagerly joined in on the cause.

Breathe In? Breathe Out!

The house was in a sought-after area and just on the market so we snatched it up quickly before selling our current homes despite what common sense would advise. We could barely afford the two houses we were in and now had the responsibility for three houses. So we organized the sale of two homes plus a joint move-in, which required lots of swift coordination.

There were obvious projects needing quick attention. Scraped ceilings, a new range for the kitchen to replace the one that was "removed" by the previous owners and literally pumping putrescence out of the boarded-up pool, which was filled with leaves, limbs and cloudy, black water nearly 3 feet deep.

Projects like this make you discover what you're willing to subject yourself to!

Out of all the projects - one should have been a slam-dunk: repairing some plumbing in the only bathroom downstairs (one would call this the master bathroom in a small, old house like this).

Little did we know a plumbing company I had used at my former house "Pyramid Plumbing" would take our money and leave us without an operable tub/shower for months. This was going to be one slippery ride.

I had used Pyramid Plumbing before at my old house without issue and went ahead and paid for the job up front to get them started (more on this later). The plumber began work on the project which involved reducing the number of vintage porcelain faucet handles on the wall from five to one sleek puppy.

Halfway through the project the plumber literally vanished after cutting a pipe flush with the tile wall (shown at right). After numerous phone calls initiated only by me married with excuses from Pyramid Plumbing's front desk, it was obvious the guy had abandoned the job because he screwed up.

Three months after patiently waiting for the company to stand up and fix the mess and after following the BBB's worthless process, I sent a demand letter to the company via certified mail, which they promptly ignored. I realized the only hope was to take this company to court.

Court. Small Claims Court

The case was pretty much an open/closed case. I had enough documentation to land this guy behind bars (or so I thought). Prior to the hearing, the owner and I were able to talk freely outside the judge's chambers. I showed him the pictures, the documentation and he still didn't want to fix the situation.

The hearing took about 10 minutes of which I was declared the victor by the judge. Sadly, the judge did not award me the full amount of the work (which was never completed) but a small portion. The judge turned to the perp and said "Do you have a check" and the guy said "No." The Judge said it was up to the plaintiff and defendant to settle out of court.

Days turned into weeks. Weeks into months. Not only was I screwed, I was getting the double shaft!

I called the court's clerk and explained the situation. I was told that if the defendant didn't pay up I'd have to pay MORE MONEY to have a court-appointed Sheriff or Constable visit the company to try and get the funds by confiscating owned (not leased) property and selling it in an auction. The best part is there were no guarantees that 1) they owned any property outright; 2) it was worth anything; or 3) that they could even sell it.

So there I was. At the end of the line. And at the end of my emotional roller coaster for the better part of a year.

And... Scene!

In the end, this episode closed with a complete loss of respect and confidence in our judicial system which had me chasing my tail for months.

The lessons learned from this fiasco are clear:

1) If you give people the opportunity to screw you, they probably will.

2) Never pay for work upfront even if you know the person and have a previous working relationship with them.

3) Always make sure you hold the upper hand in any contracting relationship.

4) Seek to do business through you referral network (friends) vs. trolling for companies via newspaper coupons or door flyers. You can get lucky, just don't expect it. We've had success with AngiesList where you can read other people's write-ups on companies they've done business with.

5) Try and work with bona fide companies vs. independents, where it's easier for them to fly under the radar (disappear) in situations where they don't take the high road.

6) Most importantly, don't rely on our judicial system to bail you out of a situation even if you have complete documentation, witnesses or even video diary back-up. Read up on the small claims process.

You may find the people enabling false hopes and perpetuating shoddy service aren't the ones who have split with your money and left jobs undone. They are the ones representing a pointless process that in the end, protects the guilty.


WTF said...

Wow! I had blocked this traumatic experience from my memory.

ActionNeeded said...

have you tried doing the whole "nbc5 news" thing? they should really give you a direct line to call!


Jamie said...

Ha! Oh my goodness what a great idea...Patrick's Panic line directly to NBC...I would completely support that!