CBS 58 Investigates: Customers claim contractor disappears mid-job
It's among the biggest expenses many Americans face: fixing up your home when it’s in need of repairs. Now imagine adding to that pain, a contractor that goes missing in action.
A viewer contacted CBS 58 Investigates, after he says his contractor stopped showing up to work. So we looked in to this contractor and found a pattern of complaints.
“This whole job from start to finish was supposed to take a week,” said Scott Ellei.
Ellei hired contractor Paul Hanson to do some siding on his home and garage, and put on a new roof. The project was supposed to cost a little more than $7000. Ellei says he'd paid about $4500 when things took a turn.
“I get a knock on the door one day, it's the roofer, and he goes have you seen this Paul Hanson?” Ellei said. “Do you know where he is? We can't get ahold of him.”
That roofer, Mark Friday, was hired by Hanson, but says he wasn't getting paid.
“He paid me for the last few jobs [I did for him] so I expected him to pay me for this one,” Friday said. “And he usually calls me and he usually stops by the job at least once in a while and he just disappeared. With some siding left to finish, the roof torn off and winter on the way, Ellei struck a deal with Friday to finish the job.
“I lost sleep over it,” Ellei said.
CBS 58 Investigates tried to track down Hanson at his listed business address, but whoever was inside didn’t come to the door. Then, Hanson called us the next day.
Hanson agreed to an interview and selected the day and time. A couple hours before, he canceled saying he had the flu. We rescheduled, but he canceled again. We set up a third interview and he called to say he couldn’t make it and agreed to do a phone interview.
Hanson says the problems with Ellei's project started when he asked for more money because the roof had two layers of shingles.
“Scott [Ellei] stopped communicating with me right when I started sending emails about the two layers,” Hanson said. “Show me, I wanna see a message, I wanna see emails, Mark [Friday] knows that i was up north.”
Still Hanson only got back in contact with Ellei and Friday after police officers told him Ellei filed a report.
We also started looking in to Hanson's business practices. He has an “F” rating with the Better Business Bureau and four complaints against him with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
In the complaints, customers tell the same story: they wrote Hanson checks but when the project start date rolled around, Hanson made excuses about why he wasn’t showing up. The complaints show he used similar excuses including the flu, funerals and broken down vehicles.
“Are you aware of the complaints against you?” CBS 58 Investigative reporter Kristen Barbaresi asked Hanson.
“Yes,” Hanson responded.
“At least three of them say you took money, you cashed checks and you didn't show up to do the job,” Barbaresi said.
“No, that's not true, that's called contract fraud that's never happened,” Hanson said.
Hanson also has multiple civil suits against him including one filed by Annette Kaja.
“I paid him $1300,” Kaja said. “It basically turned in to a series of delays and excuses. Never starting, never showing up.”
Kaja showed us her text messages with Hanson. He used the same excuses he used with others who filed complaints including the flu and a funeral.
Hanson told us the problem with Kaja’s project was the siding she wanted didn’t match.
“They did not sell that shake [siding] and I said they do not make that. This is the closest I can get,” Hanson said. “And that’s where she got upset and she wanted me to patch in something that wasn’t going to work.”
Except Kaja showed us text messages where she asked Hanson, “Did you verify the color match to the existing cedar shake siding?”
“Yes. It looks really good,” Hanson texted her back.
In court Hanson was ordered to pay Kaja about $1500. She says she hasn’t received any of that money.
“So my next step is to file to garnish his wages,” Kaja said.
Diane Welhouse is the executive director of the Milwaukee Chapter of The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI). It's a members-only organization that vets contractors before they can join.
“We go ahead and look at their background, how long have they been in business,” Welhouse said. “They have to be stable.”
Louis Weiher is a second generation contractor, owner of Carmel Building and a NARI Milwaukee member. He says the most important thing a customer needs to protect themselves is a contract.
“Make sure they have a real contract, no handwritten stuff,” Weiher said.
Weiher says contracts should have a start date, price, detailed description of the work, description of what happens in the event of a change to the project or a dispute.
“The number one thing I tell my clients is you should really like and trust the person you're working with,” Weiher said.
Ellei and Kaja say they did research Hanson but it's hard to find all the complaints against him. He uses different business names and changes the spelling of his last name. We asked him for the correct spelling. He told us it’s Hanson.
“I'm not using two different names,” Hanson said. “I have two different emails.
CBS 58 Investigates pointed to contracts where Hanson signed his name “Hansen.”
“No, I didn't do that,” Hanson said. “I just answered the email thing so that's not even a thing. I'll send you the last six houses that i did before that and you can make that in a good story.”
We asked Hanson to send those references multiple times after our interview. He reiterated that he would, but he never did.
Hanson also told us he did eventually pay Friday. However Friday says he only got $500 of the $1000 he’s owed.
If you are looking for a contractor to do any repairs on your home, big or small, you can search NARI Milwaukee members to find someone who has been vetted. Click here for more information.