Marin County couple: Contractor sails off with boat dock after dispute

MARIN, Calif. (KGO) -- You have a home improvement project, but now you need a contractor. So, how do you find the right one? 7 On Your Side's Michael Finney is here with advise.

A Marin County couple says they never saw it coming when their contractor walked off the job before it was done, and wouldn't come back. "It was daily. Daily frustration,'' said John Maliano of Novato.

"I was so stressed,'' said his wife, Lori. "You look outside and there was nothing there."

The Malianos are lucky enough to have a waterway in their backyard, one of several peaceful lagoons winding through the Bel Marin Keys neighborhood. They like to float out on their little paddleboat, but needed to replace their old and rotted wooden dock. So, they asked neighbors who built their new docks. "Two of our neighbors used this guy and the docks he made looked good,'' John said. "He also had one of the lowest estimates."

The couple hired the company ACS Marine Fabrication of Stockton, and its owner Todd Souza. They put down a $3,500 deposit for an $11,000 dock and ramp. Souza built them an aluminum dock offsite, then brought it by barge to their lagoon. However, the couple says, as Souza and his crew were installing it, something went wrong. "It looked like they broke something. We couldn't really tell,'' Lori said.

"They were trying to fix it, I don't think they could, John said. "I think they needed to weld it."

The couple says it also seemed the dock was smaller than what they'd ordered. When they asked Souza about the size, they said it led to an argument. They said Souza demanded the full payment, but the job wasn't done. "I said, 'well, the contract says payment upon completion and you're not done.'" John recalls.

"He finally said to his guys, 'pack it up, we're leaving,' " Lori said. The couple said Souza hauled the dock onto a barge and pulled it away. "Now he had our dock and our deposit and we had nothing,'' she said. "I was just shaking."

The couple said they called the sheriff, trying to stop Souza from taking the dock, but officers said the case amounted to a civil dispute. They could not take action.

Lori says she kept trying over several weeks to get Souza to bring the dock back. She kept promising they would pay in full as soon as he finished the work. "I kept calling, calling, calling. Nothing. I finally said, 'enough I'm calling 7 On Your Side. Michael Finney always gets the job done. If he can't help us I don't know what we're going to do.'"

Seven on Your side contacted Souza. He did not want to go on camera, but by phone he said he took the dock back because of the dispute over its size, and because he wanted to be sure to get paid. He would not say whether he tried to collect the full payment before finishing the job. However, he agreed to return with the dock and install it, if the couple would pay for the extra hauling.

John and Lori agreed, so Souza came back. "The dock is beautiful,'' Lori said. "He did a really nice job. It's just getting there was a nightmare."

At that, John and Lori took their paddleboat out onto the lagoon and floated into the sunset. "Thank God for 7 On Your Side," Lori said. "If it weren't for you, I don't think we'd have that dock. We're very happy so, thank you thank you thank you!"

Written and Produced by Renee Koury.
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