LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Homeowners claim a Las Vegas restoration company is tricking them into signing contracts, over charging and filing liens against their homes which could lead to foreclosure.
It starts with a possible leak in the bathroom or under the kitchen sink. But that's just the first drop in a bewildering bucket.
Now several Las Vegas homeowners are reaching out to 13 Investigates, shocked that they could lose their homes over disputes with a contractor.
PREVIOUS REPORT: Homeowners feel threatened by Las Vegas restoration company
Contractors can put a lien on a home when a homeowner doesn't pay in full for the work. It's a first step in the legal process that could lead to a judge forcing you to sell your home to pay off the bill.
13 Investigates found one Las Vegas contractor who some customers claim tricked them into signing contracts, and then was quick to file liens on their home
"It's the most intimidating document that I have actually got in my life," said homeowner Julia Nikolova.
The document had a devastating demand, according to Nikolova, and delivered just days after Christmas.
"It says that we have to pay $19,491 immediately. Otherwise, they are going to proceed with foreclosure on the mechanical lien on our property, and we have to pay this within 15 days," Nikolova said.
In early December, she thought she was facing a simple inconvenience.
"There was a leak underneath the sink," Nikolova said.
A referral to Rooter-Man plumbing brought a contractor to her Mountain's Edge home.
Her daughter co-owns the house and was there when Rooter-Man told her water damage was severe, and they needed to start work immediately.
"He said it would cost you $7,500 to finance the whole project, including rebuilding the kitchen," Nikolova said.
She also said they recommended a company called Bolmer Restoration, owned by Eduardo Arredondo.
"They asked my daughter to sign a one-page authorization to work with our insurance," Nikolova said. "And that one page was on a cell phone."
Bolmer Restoration started tearing her kitchen apart and then sent her a document via certified mail. Her daughter's one signature had been electronically copied on 13 pages of what looks like a contract but with no estimates of cost - instead "to-be-determined" listed as TBD nearly two dozen times.
"We were not to provide the estimate to the homeowner," says a former Bolmer employee. He agreed to speak to 13 Investigates on condition of anonymity because he doesn't want to be implicated in what was going on.
"When I started getting copied on the emails and saw that there was a formula and a budget before there was an estimate, that's when I realized something was wrong," the former employee said.
The most significant wrong, he says, is what he calls a predatory lien practice. The Clark County Recorder's website shows Bolmer has filed hundreds of liens against Las Vegas homeowners since 2014.
The former employee says the often five-figure demands come from a formula, not the actual measurements and observations from a particular job. He says the company's standard practice was to manufacture a budget by manipulating a bill to get the desired number.
"And just to use an example for easy math: if he spent $600 in labor costs to mop up and dry out the flooring and cutting away the drywall, he would divide that by .06. He would get the number $10,000. That would become the budget. And then it was up to the estimator to work that budget back into the software program," the former employee said.
Bolmer Restoration owner Eduardo Arredondo declined a 13 Investigates interview, but did send the following statement:
"For more than ten years, our company has had the privilege of providing quality work for thousands of Nevadans. We strive to treat each customer with the utmost integrity and respect and are prepared to listen to and address these customer concerns."
Homeowners told 13 Investigates their concerns have not been addressed.
"This intimidation, these constant threats is what I've experienced," Nikolova said.
She has also filed a formal complaint with the Nevada Contractors Board.
And 13 Investigates watched as Arredondo showed up for a meeting at her home with a board investigator and then hurriedly left afterward.
The state's investigation remains ongoing, and 13 Investigates learned the contractor's board reopened as other homeowner complaints against Bolmer surfaced after 13 Action News started asking questions.
"I think in total this is suspect," attorney Bruce Flammey said.
The contractor's board wouldn't talk about Bolmer due to their ongoing investigation. So, 13 Investigates asked Flammey to evaluate Bolmer's tactics. He said homeowners don't have to look far to find fault.
"You can't be tricked into signing a bad contract because that would be fraud," Flammey said. "And fraud in the inducement to sign is one of the ways you can set that contract aside."
The homeowners 13 Investigates talked to thought they were signing work authorizations, not contracts. Flammey also said contracts are supposed to be fair, open, and specific.
"If the scope of the work and the price are not filled in, you don't have a contract, in my opinion," Flammey explained.
Julia Nikolova said she is not giving up her fight.
"I am very disappointed to see that a contractor can do a customer wrong in so many ways," Nikolova said. "And that they can try to foreclose on your home without any legal justification - just for a frivolous lien - it is very scary."
13 Investigates asked Clark County Recorder Debbie Conway why it's so easy for a company to file a lien against your home, and she provided the following information:
In response to your inquiry, this particular question comes up on a regular basis. The lien is just one of the documents that our office is required under the NRS statute to record if the document meets the recording requirements as outlined under NRS 247.
If a lien is filed fraudulently against a property, hiring an attorney is one recourse, but it is not the only recourse. The Attorney General's office has a fraud unit that conducts investigations involving fraudulent acts. Metro and the FBI will investigate such allegations as well. If asked about such matters, our managers often provide this information to the public and will refer them to the proper authorities. We also refer senior citizens to Nevada Legal Services for free consultation and assistance.
Our office provides the investigators with copies of the recorded document which serves as proof of intent to commit fraud. If a person has a lien filed against their property and they feel that the lien is without merit and the intent was to commit fraud, then they can contact the proper authorities for assistance.
Recording a document does not make it legal. The courts determine the legality of the document. The Deputy Recorders are prohibited by law to provide legal advice. The Deputy Recorder's responsibility is to record the document based upon the law and recording requirements.
The Recorder's Office is a member of the Fight Fraud Task Force which also includes representatives from Metro, the FBI, the Attorney General's Office, HUD investigators, the State of Nevada, our District Attorney's Office, and other investigative agencies. When an individual records a lien against a property and it turns out to be fraudulent, they are subject to investigation and/or prosecution by one of these Task Force agencies.
So there is a deterrent for breaking the law, because filing an invalid lien is a punishable offense. Our office was advised by the AG's office that we are to record the document according to the law, because without the recorded document, the AG is unable to prove intent and subsequently prosecute.
Our Managers, as a member of the Fight Fraud Task Force, are trained to report and submit suspicious documents to our District Attorney who in turn works with other Task Force members to investigate.
We have personally contacted the authorities (Metro, FBI), on occasion, on behalf of the individual property owner and have witnessed the authority figure in turn contact the perpetrator and within a day or so the perpetrator will come into our office and release the lien.
Currently our office is working on a project that will be implemented in the future and free to the public called a notification service. Property owners will be able to provide us with their email address and parcel number so that when a document is recorded on that parcel number, the owner will be notified via email.