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Residents frustrated with city's unresponsiveness
By Heather M. Goodwin, firstname.lastname@example.org
When two Lewisville residents decided to have a new fence put up around their home, they never dreamed it would turn into a seven-month nightmare. The homeowners reached out to the city, expecting help, but didn't immediately get it.
On June 20, Paula Felps and Cindy Baldhoff, who live in the 1300 block of Maplewood Drive, hired Ted Flowers, who owns Residential Solutions, to build their home fence. What was supposed to be a weekend job turned into a saga that has left the homeowners feeling frustrated, more with their city for not helping them, than with the contractor himself.
"In the end, this experience has left me wondering, Why are homeowners paying to have permits issued if the city isn't going to enforce their guidelines? I guess my biggest question is, did this get resolved because the newspaper and James Kunke got involved," Baldhoff said. "Is that what every homeowner will have to go through to get the city to uphold and enforce its ordinances? And if so - what are we paying for? Why bother to have code enforcement on payroll if there's really no enforcement?"
"Ted was real inexpensive but had done work for us before, so we trusted him. He came recommended by a friend," Felps said. "We felt comfortable going out of town for the weekend, but when we returned, the fence wasn't done, and the work that was done was bad. They did a poor job and also would not come back to complete the job."
Baldhoff said the two continued to find problems with the fence and made repeated phone calls to Flowers. On July 5, Flowers went to the home and said the work was fine, according to Felps.
"We fired them from the job, after having already paid $2,200, and decided to find another contractor to complete the fence," Felps said.
Flowers said when he went back to finish the job, he was told another contractor had been hired. He said his son and his son's friend put up the fence, and he had no idea what happened to cause the homeowners to hire a new contractor.
"I've been doing this for 15 years, and this job is one of hundreds I've done. I've only had one complaint," Flowers said. "I went back to fix the fence and was told to leave the property. The fence looked the way it did because it was not a completed fence, and we weren't given the chance to finish it."
Flowers said he went back to complete the job sometime before July 1, but he couldn't recall what exact date he returned. He said he has severed ties with the project.
"I have no more ties with it. We were fired, so we don't have anything else to do with it," Flowers said.
However, the homeowners said they had difficulty finding a contractor who would work on the fence because they said the existing structure would not meet city codes. Felps contacted the city of Lewisville and was able to set up an appointment for an inspector to look at the fence the following day.
On July 17, Richard Dallof, a building inspector for the city of Lewisville, came over to inspect the fence.
"He noted that he had never seen a fence so poorly constructed and agreed there were several issues that needed resolved," Felps said. "He indicated the current fence posts would have to be re-installed in order to provide the support needed for the fence, and the gate lacked support beams. In addition, the latches on the gates were not properly installed, making them difficult to open, and overall he said the fence looked terrible and was not at all up to standards."
Dallof did not approve the fence. He said the fence posts needed to be fixed and capped, there were missing screws and bolts that needed to be put in and in general it was a "poor quality of work," according to the homeowners.
"He indicated he would talk to Ted, as well as speak to his supervisor to see how we could get some relief. He also asked that I contact Ted and inform him of the situation," Felps said. "I called and left a message on his voice mail stating that the fence had failed inspection and asked him to call me to resolve this. I also noted that the city would be contacting him."
Felps said between July 19 and Aug. 6, Dallof had many conversations with her saying he was attempting to reach Flowers, but he would not return the phone calls. On Aug. 6, Dallof reached Flowers and the two were set to meet and go over what the fence needed in order to meet city code and have the red tag removed. A red tag means a permit has been issued for a project, and it's good for a specific time period, but it doesn't meet the city's standards.
Neither Felps nor Baldoff were part of that meeting, but they were told that they would be called that afternoon with an update.
"Richard indicated that Ted had told him he had been thrown off the property and that he could not do work on the posts. He also said the instability of the posts was due to the drought, and not the way they were installed," Felps said. "I again explained to Richard that Ted had not been thrown off the property, we told him to stop working on the fence because he was not fixing the things that we asked him to, and his sons were doing a horrible job and making it look even worse. I also reminded Richard that he had first seen the posts a month earlier - shortly after they were installed - and declared that they were not stable."
Flowers said he explained his side of what happened. He said he put lead bolts into the fence where he was told it needed it, but he wouldn't do anymore work on it.
"I will not touch that fence because I was told to leave, and it's not my problem if she can't find a contractor," Flowers said. "I did what the inspector told me to do. I've done other jobs since then with no problem."
Flowers said even though he didn't do the original work himself, he puts his trust in his workers to do the job, and he "hasn't had any complaints." He said he is abiding by law and has been told by legal counsel that he is going "by the books."
For the next two months, Dallof told the homeowners that he was trying to reach Flowers with no success. The homeowners said they were told that Flowers could be ticketed for each day the work was not completed. No ticket was issued, but Dallof continued to attempt to reach Flowers, according to Baldoff.
"Richard said all he could do was to keep calling him. He said he could send him a certified letter, but didn't really want to have to do that, so he would keep calling," Baldhoff said. "I then asked about the ticket, and he said that even if he gave Ted a ticket, Ted would have 180 days from the date of issuing the permit to respond."
During this time, the homeowners were able to get another contractor to repair the back gate so it was usable and could be locked.
Baldhoff said no progress was made until they made contact with Steve Baker, a contractor with Dallas Fence. She said he got involved and took the matter to the city, complaining that it wasn't fair that the city wasn't upholding or enforcing its ordinances.
"I was called in to look and do repairs on the fence. I started pointing out all the problems with the fence that were from poor workmanship," Baker said. "The reality is most of the fence will need to be torn down and rebuilt. If you pull up general standards for what needs to be built, you'll see that even the general codes weren't done. The city said they red tagged it because it didn't meet those qualifications but won't say exactly why it was red tagged. I've been in the business about 10 years, and I've seen this on older fences, but I haven't seen one like this situation with it being a new fence."
After Baker got involved, Dallof said he would send a certified letter to Flowers saying he had to fix the problems with the fence. By the end of November, Dallof told the homeowners that he wasn't sure if he could get the certified letter out before he retired on Dec. 31, according to Baldhoff.
"At one point he called and said he needed Ted's address because it was not on the form they must fill out for the permit. Richard said the letter would be going out that week, but it didn't," Baldhoff said. "I asked what took so long to get the letter written and said it was unacceptable. Richard told me he would 'work on it.' Finally on Dec. 5, the letter went out, and Ted had 10 days to respond."
Flowers didn't respond to the letter, and another certified letter was sent out, giving Flowers five days to respond.
"At this point, all we're asking is for the city to fine Ted so he has some accountability for doing a bad job," Baldhoff said. "We wanted him to fix the problems and then hire another contractor to do the rest of the cosmetics."
Dallof didn't respond to phone calls from The Leader. He has since retired from the city of Lewisville. According to Baldhoff, Jimmy Estep, chief building inspector, said that Dallof lied to them. Estep said contractors have 60 days to complete a job once they pull a permit, according to Baldhoff. In the beginning, Baldhoff said they were told they had 180 days.
Estep sent Flowers another certified letter stating that he would be fined by the city, according to the homeowners. As of press time, Flowers has not responded to the letter.
James Kunke, community relations and tourism director, said the city doesn't have legal standing because this was a private transaction.
"It's always unfortunate when a resident has problems with a contractor. In this case we have sent a certified letter to the contractor, but it should have been sent out earlier. That was a communication problem," Kunke said. "Certain work requires a city permit, and if it's not done properly we can stop the work, but we can't force a contractor to do the work."
Baker said he has never seen a city so "lax" about permits and code enforcement.
"I've done work in Plano and Flower Mound, for example, and if you have a problem in that city, they'll put you on a list that will prohibit you from doing work in that city until that problem is resolved," Baker said. "It's wrong that he [Flowers] can continue to apply for permits and do work in the city."
Baker said the permit process is "somewhat designed" to have foundation for certain standards and enforcement.
"We went around with the city and asked if they have standards, why don't they enforce them? The city did agree that there were some standards that they should adhere to, especially with building, but if there's no standard, how can you say what's wrong and how can enforce it?" Baker said. "I think the entire building department should be disbanded and rebuilt with some kind of standards. My problem is that they're [contractors] taking advantage of citizens. The city was going to send letter, but if he won't respond it goes back to square one because there's no enforcement. Why do we go through the exercise of getting a permit if it's not going to have any consequences? In other cities, they would shut you down for something like this."
Kunke said his advice for residents hiring a contractor would be to check their references. He said there is a list available to residents for general contractors, who are required to register with the city and must have insurance. He said if there is contractor with a history and red tags that are not resolved, then the city will flag their name in the system and won't let them get a permit. He said it's not a bad idea to call the city and ask if a job requires a permit and then ask the contractor to show it to them.
Now, the homeowners have had to pay another contractor, Baker, to fix the fence. However, the city did re-issue the permit at no charge to the homeowners, which they said helped move the progress faster.
"All we're asking is for the city to do something," Baldhoff said. "We feel like the city isn't doing its job. This is a city issue, not a vendetta against Ted."
If any resident has had issues/problems with code enforcement or contractors, contact email@example.com.
The following are comments from the readers.
In no way do they represent the view of Starlocalnews.com
In no way do they represent the view of Starlocalnews.com
austin wrote on Jan 28, 2013 2:55 PM:
" I agree with Frank, not sure how the city can force a fired contractor to return to do work, or penalize them when they cant go back and correct mistakes. If I am not mistaken building Inspections and Code Enforcement are two completely different departments?? At any rate like Frank said civil matter plain and simple. "
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