Couple's home in jeopardy due to contractor

May 7, 2010 11:59:20 PM PDT
If you ever have to hire a contractor, you could end up paying twice for the same bill. It's happening to more and more people.

It's another sign of the times. The recession seems to be taking its toll even in the most unusual ways.

Images of the devastating Angora Fire in South Lake Tahoe are still etched in the minds of Howard and Joann Manning. The fire destroyed their home three years ago, but they're still living with the consequences today.

"It's very stressful. We haven't had a normal life," Howard said.

The couple had to wait a week after the fire before firefighters let them back into their home.

"We drove down the street and the house was gone. All we saw was the chimney and foundation, but the devastation was everywhere," Joann said.

Few of the mementos that survived Angora include badly burned Christmas decorations, a cast iron skillet and a ceramic duck.

"Lucky horseshoes. And we were lucky, no one got hurt," Joann said.

The couple decided to rebuild their home and in December 2008, the home was completed. They made their final payment to HR Construction and owner Jack Aleshire that month.

But then, the Mannings life took an abrupt turn. Within days, Meeks Lumber contacted them demanding money. So did Doug Bolton's Floor Show and Ponderosa Glass.

In all, the couple heard from six subcontractors that HR Construction hired to either work on or supply materials for their home. All six said Jack Aleshire of HR Construction left town without paying them. All six held the Mannings responsible for making those payments and all six placed liens on the Manning home.

"It's wrong. There's just no other way. It's just so wrong. We hired a contractor to replace a home and we paid our bills in good faith. We're hard working people," Joann said.

The subcontractors demanded a total of $60,000 from the Mannings. That's on top of the $600,000 they already paid to HR Construction and Jack Aleshire.

"We paid the person with whom we had a contract with. We thought it was over with. I've used all my insurance money," Howard said.

The owner of Bob's Heating is one of the six subcontractors who placed liens on their home.

"You hold him responsible because he's the one that hired Jack. You would think that before he pays off all his bills he would make sure that all the contractors are paid," Robert Walsilchuk from Bob's Heating said.

The liens make it nearly impossible for the family to take a loan out on their home and if the Mannings fail to pay, they could lose the home altogether in a foreclosure -- a home they've already lost once before to fire.

ABC7's legal analyst Dean Johnson says mechanic lien laws go all the way back to the Elizabethan Era.

"The idea here is somebody, a mechanic does work for you, and improves your property. That mechanic should be protected and ensured payment," Johnson said.

The state received 648 complaints in the 2006-2007 fiscal year about contractors not paying their subcontractors. That increased more than 3.5 times in the last fiscal year.

It's yet another way the recession is hitting home. Rick Lopes is with the Contractors State License Board.

"It's kind of tied to the economy. It's really tough. There's not a lot of work out there for contractors," he said. "So even before you hire a contractor you have to be aware you could be on the hook for something if it goes wrong."

But there are things you can do to protect yourself.

Pay with a two party check made out to both the contractor and subcontractor -- that way you know the subcontractor will get paid.

Ask the contractor for a lien release. That releases you from all liens; by law the contractor has to give it to you if you request it.

It's something the Mannings are only learning about now.

"If I had to do it again, I wouldn't be a victim like I am now," Howard said.

Three of the liens have been removed after the Mannings won in small claims court. The other three cases are now consolidated and are pending. Meanwhile, the state is moving to revoke Alshire's license, on grounds he diverted or failed to account for funds.


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