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Home repair problems continue to surface

Tuesday, December 11, 2018 by Jo Clifton

After our story last week highlighting problems in the city’s Neighborhood Housing and Community Development home loan repair program, the Austin Monitor received information from another homeowner who says the contractor hired to refurbish his home in 2014 did a bad job but was still paid for the work.

Dave Hernandez, who lives on Holly Street, said he got a lot of promises from the contractor, Valdez Remodeling, but the contractor did not do the job that was promised and that city officials in charge of the program in 2014 rejected his complaints or failed to respond.

Christine Valdez told the Monitor that her company did what it was supposed to do and that Hernandez has not complained to them.

However, Hernandez said Monday that the contractor told him he would get new kitchen cabinets, but then decided there was not enough money to do that. In addition, he said they promised to “make the floors as level as we can. He said we’re going to put in all new flooring. After all floors had been ripped up, he said they didn’t have enough money to do all of it – only the living room and the dining room. They were also supposed to do work on the driveway and the walkway and they canceled that, saying they would not have enough money to do the floors if they worked on the driveway and the walkway.”

The contractor told Hernandez he had to move out of his house so that they could do the windows. Although the contractor had told him he had no control over who put in the new windows, Hernandez said the workers turned out to be the contractor’s employees.

Hernandez said that while they did put in new windows, they didn’t do a very good job because he can’t open or close his new bathroom window. “They put a new two-by-four at the base of the window but never painted it,” he said.

He also complained about work the contractor did on the back door threshold. Since the threshold was rotten, Hernandez expected it to be replaced, but that is not what happened. “They just took a two-by-four and put it on top of the rot,” he said, making the door higher than it should be.

Instead of replacing a cracked wall in the utility room, Hernandez said the workers simply plastered over it, making it difficult to hang a mirror there. He says he signed off on the work in October 2014, but after that “everybody evaded me.”

Hernandez contacted one of the homeowners featured in the Monitor‘s stories about the troubled home repair program. Janis Walker said last week that the contractor who was supposed to redo a badly done roofing job showed up at her house two days before Thanksgiving.

After doing an inadequate job the first time, she said, the contractor, Piatra Inc., was supposed to put a new roof on her home. Although the contractor told her she should move out before the repairs were done, Walker insisted on staying in her home so she could see what they were doing. Walker also said that the contractor gave her no time frame for when the job would be done.

The contractor had not returned calls as of Monday and Walker has not heard any news on when they will return. When the Austin Monitor called Piatra owner Mirela Glass to inquire about Walker’s situation, Glass hung up without responding to any questions.

That story rang a bell with Hernandez, who sent the following email:

“I read the Dec. 6 article in the Austin Monitor. I had the same situation, where no one will commit, no one will accept responsibility.

“The worst thing is that they like you to move out and give great incentives to do so. They tell you how nice it will be, just like a vacation. But it allows the contractor to hide their mistakes. You will not see what they are doing, which amounts to nothing. After all, you are not going to see what they did after the walls are covered.

“After you sign the release, they are home free. All you see is how nice it looks, but then when you sit back and stare at the walls, you see everything that they didn’t do, and all the shortcuts they took, and yes, they are in cahoots with each other.”

The director of the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department and the construction manager, as well as other members of the construction team from 2014, have either retired, quit or been fired. The new director of the department, Rosie Truelove, promised in her response to audit recommendations to launch a new solicitation for master repair contractors in March 2019.

She wrote, “The current contract has presented challenges that have made it difficult to properly respond with our current processes and legal contract documents. The new (contract) presents an opportunity to make necessary improvements to our documents and processes.”

Truelove promised to address customer satisfaction issues, recourse for non-performance, and other changes.

Read more in this series here and here.

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