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Old 10-01-2005, 02:18 PM   #1
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Any other contractors out there?

(This post ended up alot longer than I intended, sorry for that)
We need advice. After 30 years of being a contractor, my husband has had his first complaint filed with the CSLB (contrators state license board). It is becoming apparent that contractors have no rights at all. The complainant has made a list of demands to resolve the problem, and the 'arbitrtator' has told him he must comply, and they are also pulling his license and attaching his bond.

The story is that he installed an aboveground pool 3 years ago for a customer who has since died. His sister inherited a good deal of wealth and also the property the pool is on. The liner got a rip, she didn't address the problem, the leak under cut the ground underneath, and the pool collapsed. Originally, she wanted a full refund of what her brother paid for the pool. My husband said he would put the pool back up and install a new liner at no cost. (Even though it wasn't his fault, he is legally responsible for what happens to the pool in the first 4 years, to get it back in the condition it was in before the collapse).

She said alright, and then promptly filed a complaint with the CSLB. Now she wants the pool reinstalled elsewhere on the property in an unsuitable location, which would require massive relandscaping (retaining walls, etc) to become suitable. The CSLB web site says that the first step after a complaint is filed is arbitration, whereas the two parties come to an agreed resolution with the help of an arbitrator. In our case the 'arbitrator' wants us to do whatever she wants - with no negotiations on our part, at which point his license will be revoked, his bond attached, and he is essentially without any means to make a living.

Anybody out there know of any source of information for us to get our rights back, without first hiring a lawyer? (I can't imagine how much it will cost us to fight the state of California.) An ombudsman perhaps? Or a group that can tell us what our rights are and what recourse we can take? I've done much web searching, but can't find any help for California Contractors. Thanks in advance for any information.
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Old 10-01-2005, 04:43 PM   #2
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Not a contractor but that won't stop me from jumping in here! I AM a trained mediator, however. And there is a difference!

You said arbitration was the first step... what happens after that?

Do you belong to a contractor's association of any kind? If so, what do they suggest?


Can you hire an independent arbitrator, or mediator?

I knew California could be screwy but this sounds like beyond that, even. Of ocurse, we've only heard (second hand) one side of the story.

Good luck!

Elizabeth in Iowa
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Old 10-01-2005, 06:28 PM   #3
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My husband thought he had already resolved the problem as I mentioned before, when he received this letter in the mail (the emboldening is mine for emphasis, the entire content is verbatim):

"We have found that some complaints that are filed with us have not been brought to the attention of the contractor. This complaint is currently in the mediation phase of our complaint handling process and this would be the time to resolve the complaint. If the complaint is not reconciled at this level and we find evidence of possible violations of the license law, the file may be forwarded to an Enforcement Representative for investigation to determine if such violations exist. If violations of contractors' license law are supported, the license may be subject to disciplinary action.

We are requesting that you review the problem and contact the customer to try to settle this complaint prior to further investigation by this agency. After you have talked to the customer, please provide the information below and return the form to us within seven days. If you are unable to contact the customer by phone, contact the customer by mail and return a copy of your letter to me.

Name Withheld
customer services representative"

(There is only one complaint, btw)

At this point my husband called the customer (actually the deceased customer's sister), and this is when she said she wanted the pool put up in a different area (with all the extra work that would entail). My husband is only required to put the pool up in the condition it was in before it collapsed, so he dissagreed. He then called the CSLB, and this is when the representative he talked to told him to do what this woman wanted, or else.

To be honest, my husband is not good at crossing t's and dotting i's. He was very upset and did not follow through with sending in the bottom of the form mentioned in the letter above (the form simply askes if the issue was resolved, no violations exist, or "other" (explain on another sheet).

Having said that, how can mediation already be in process, when the contractor hasn't even been informed that someone has filed a complaint against him?

The CSLB's complaint web site, http://www.cslb.ca.gov./contractors/enforcement.asp , says this: "The CSR will attempt to mediate the complaint. If mediation is unsuccessful, the complaint may either be referred to arbitration or assigned to a deputy registrar for investigation.

The CSLB's arbitration program allows parties to a complaint who qualify under Section 7085 of the Business and Professions Code to participate in a binding arbitration process administered by a professional arbitration association.

If the complaint is referred to a deputy registrar, he or she will investigate in order to determine if there have been any violations of the Contractors License Law or the Board Rules and Regulations. The deputy will review documents and interview the contractor, the complainant, and other parties who might supply relevant information. Once the investigation is completed and a complaint is referred to legal action, it may be disclosed upon request."

We are confounded. It doesn't seem as though the state has followed their own required procedures to work this out. My husband is very good at what he does (this is his first complaint in 30 years as a contractor), but he is not very savvy when it comes to navigating the vast government bureaucracy. He gets confused and frustrated and doesn't know how to handle the situation.
We used to be members of the National Spa and Pool Institute, just for this reason, but a few years ago, they supported a contractor who was sued when someone was paralyzed in a diving accident, were sued in turn when it became clear the contractor was now broke, and lost, which pretty much bankrupted them, and they are no longer able to support their members in litigation. As far as I know it was the only pool group that had any clout.

If you got this far, thanks for your interest and for reading the whole thing. I really want to give you as clear a picture as possible.
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Old 10-01-2005, 10:40 PM   #4
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Sounds to me like you need an attorney, a good old junk yard dog!!!!!!!
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Old 10-02-2005, 05:49 AM   #5
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Cedars, don't think for a second that you can resolve this without a lawyer, especially if your husband doesn't follow through with paperwork.

That's what lawyers are there for, and that's why they get paid.

The Airstream forums are good for a lot of things, but this sounds serious.

Get a lawyer.

Period.
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Old 10-02-2005, 10:11 AM   #6
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what is the life expextancy of an above ground pool? it's not your fault if the pool goes bad. if you installed it correctaly. remember in california there is a law that says you only have to warrenty a product for 90 days. and you certanaly shoulden't have to move it elsewhere for no further comensation.
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Old 10-02-2005, 10:20 AM   #7
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Summerkid, it wasn't ME with the problem, it is MTPalms!

And I agree... if the initial consult with an attorney is a hundred bucks, it is still money well spent to keep a license that generates an income!

At the very least, contact with the agency the letter came from should be made. Call THEM and ask what is going on, what to do, etc. Agencies can sometimes (only sometimes) be very understanding and helpful if the non complaining party contacts them and asks questions. Especially if there has never before been a complaint filed against the person or company.

Elizabeth in Iowa
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Old 10-02-2005, 11:01 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by desi arnaz
what is the life expextancy of an above ground pool? it's not your fault if the pool goes bad. if you installed it correctaly. remember in california there is a law that says you only have to warrenty a product for 90 days. and you certanaly shoulden't have to move it elsewhere for no further comensation.
The pool structure can last indefinitely, depending on how well it is taken care of, liners average 6 or 7 years. Retailers may warranty 90 days, manufacturers pretty much write their own according to industry standard for that product. Contractors, on the other hand, are responsible for everything involved in the construction process for 4 years, including any work done by subcontractors, plus the homeowner has 4 or 10 years (depending on the type of complaint) to file a complaint against the contractor.

The contractor is required to fix -in our case - the pool, so it is in the same condition it was before it collapsed. Which to us means putting it back up where it was before, and putting a new liner in it. This person wants it moved 60 feet because she doesn't like it's current location, which means rerunning electrical lines, water lines for the autofill, and major landscaping (we are talking tractor work). The CSLB seems to think we should comply with her demands, not what the law requires.

We are fully prepared to follow the letter of the law, as a matter of fact, my husband was ready weeks ago to put the pool back up. We have had this problem with unemployment and worker's comp claims too. Ultimately, the state always sides with the complainant, even when it is evident that their claim is fraudulent. We caught an employee working for someone else when he was being treated under workers comp and not suppposed to be working - which we reported and nothing was done. We also had an employee who literally called in sick 1 out od 3 days, so at his suggestion we put him on 'will call' and left him on our employment roll, in case we needed someone in a pinch. After 3 months he filed for unemployment, which we contested, and had his wife stand in at his teleconferenced hearings, because he was 'sick' (you could hear him talking to her in the background). He still got his unemployment. Frankly, I am sick to death of hearing the California Government whine about how broke they are, when they let this go on.
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Old 10-02-2005, 11:32 AM   #9
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Thanks everyboy for all the good input. A $100 consultation with a lawyer sounds like money well spent.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cedars

...At the very least, contact with the agency the letter came from should be made. Call THEM and ask what is going on, what to do, etc. Elizabeth in Iowa
Unfortunately, that was the call that generated the "do what the complainant wants, or else" response.

California is a nightmare for small businesses (I'm taking about the husband/wife and maybe a worker or 2 variety, not the legal definition of 200 employees or less). We have recently purchased land in AZ so we can leave, but we're not fly by nighters - we still have some responsibilities here to take care of, so a move is a couple years away yet.

If we lived in a state like Iowa, your suggestion would make perfect sense (I'm from Nebraska myself), but it's like dealing with a company's tech support: you're lucky if your first contact speaks understandable English, you never get the same person twice, instead of handing you up to a supervisor, your call gets transferred to someone's voice mail and you never get a call back, you have to keep calling them, getting sent to the wrong department, etc.

Here is the latest evasion ploy I have figured out from my own job at an accountant's office. I just spent 3 months on the merry-go-round with the State Board of Equalization (aka, sales tax collector in a normal state) trying to get a client's tax form snafu straightened out:

You have to call from different phones because they have caller ID, and if they don't want to deal with you, they recognze the number and ignore you. After 3 months of everything I listed above, but mostly not getting my calls returned, I didn't want to tie up our landline so I used the company cell phone and got straight through. I have noticed this trend when I hear other people's complaints about customer service.

Try it. If you keep leaving voice mails with no response, use a phone with a different number, and you will get through, much to the dismay of the person on the other end. If you do get voice mail right off the bat, just leave your first name and the new number, but don't tell them what you are calling about. They will call back.

This has also worked with Employment Development Department (state unemployment), Franchise Tax Board (state income tax) and a medical office that owed us a $1600 refund from July.

Notice how CA can't even give their departments proper descriptive names?
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Old 10-02-2005, 12:04 PM   #10
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I have to say that this is one of the reasons I gave up doing work in or on others houses. I was a licensed contractor for years here in Maryland with eight employees as well as maintaining a cabinetmaking shop. Ive done a years of historic renovations in the downtown area of Baltimore. Although I've never been sued I lost eight thousand dollars on one job just because the general said they were out of money, going under and none of the subcontractors were being paid. My attorney said that I could take it to court and probably win but I would be lucky to collect pennies on the dollar.The advise was just take it as a loss on my taxes. I was lucky, a friend lost 20K on the same job. I still have a shop but no employees and fewer headaches. It's a tough business and people have become increasingly easy to sue you over almost anything. I also agree, you need an attorney to protect your intrests, and the best of luck.
Jack
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Old 10-02-2005, 07:47 PM   #11
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but this woman caused the problem herself by tearing the liner..... i say you have no responsibility.
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Old 10-02-2005, 11:42 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by desi arnaz
but this woman caused the problem herself by tearing the liner..... i say you have no responsibility.
I wish you were the one we had to convince, Desi.

What galls me most is the pool was built for her brother who was very happy with us, and was a return customer. She inherited it along with the property and didn't take care of it. Alas the law is on her side.
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