Are there any “secret” ways of collecting from a contractor who took our $$ and ran?
First let me apologize for the length of this post; I hope the paragraphs make it readable.
William (“Bill”) Van Dalsem (did you catch that? **Bill VanDalsem**, out of Anaheim Hills/Yorba Linda area in Southern CA.) is a licensed and bonded California contractor with a seemingly clear record. We hired his company (at the time “Horizon General Contractors”, license #949202, now “Western Sunset Builders, Inc.”, license #1058861) to remodel our kitchen with custom cabinetry and 2 bathrooms, replace all windows, new paint throughout our single-story, 1800sf house, new recessed lights, insulation replacement/attic cleaning & sealing, and install a new electrical panel. That was the contracted work, for an estimated $101,900, with 10% down (any deposit over $1,000 is against CA law, the first of many red flags).
The scope of work quickly increased—without written change orders, naturally—to include new hard- and softscape in the front and back, tearing off the existing siding and installing new stucco…and then expanded again to replace both the sewer line and water main, and a whole-house repipe with PEX. (The plumbing was absolutely necessary, and the price was fair.)
Initially, all went well: we had interior and exterior crews working, we paid (huge) invoices immediately, appliances were purchased…and then our Project Manager’s young son was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. From then on out, our job became a nightmare.
Here we are, 38+ weeks later, with *astoundingly* poor results: shoddy painting and finishing work (they made THREE attempts, each time with little to no prep work, and with each attempt creating a bigger mess), stained and cracking concrete, large empty areas of dirt with weeds growing in the front and back yards, ugly, crappy “temporary” gates that we paid $2,000 for (we wanted vinyl), a half-cleaned attic (1/2 the old insulation was removed, no cleaning/sealing has been done, and no new insulation installed), ugly, uneven exterior stucco with a big ol’ stain around the front window that somehow passed inspection—all paid for—and an existing hardwood floor that still needs refinishing due to the extended length of time the protective paper has been taped to it. And more too, but I’m too exhausted to list it all.
We paid about $270k to the contractor, and much of the work either isn’t completed or was horribly done. My progressively-disabled husband and I have been sleeping in our family room since March (he’s on an air mattress and I’m in a chair) because the master bedroom flooring wasn’t installed correctly (it’s not level at the doorways), and once the adjustable bed is in, there’s no easy way of getting it out. We don’t have heat in either bathroom, and no light in the second bath, and the house is in total disarray.
I recently discovered that Bill has filed personal bankruptcy and now won’t return my calls. He has ALL of our money (all of our home’s equity anyway, which is essentially everything), so we can’t pay to have someone finish the job. And Bill overcharged us $87,500…and that’s assuming he finishes everything he started (he won’t). If not, we’re out $127,500, and that doesn’t include any remediation costs to fix what he screwed up.
I kept immaculate records (unlike Bill), and I do have access to a construction attorney (my boss) but, like many have already pointed out, lawsuits are EXPENSIVE, even “just” the initial filing and process server fees (never mind motion fees, stenographer fees, etc.), and we don’t have any money left. And even if we did win a judgment, how does one get blood from a turnip? I have already filed a complaint with the CSLB. What else can I do? The bond for the new company is a whopping $15k…but that’s not who we’re contracted with. Ideas?