A lesson on how not to get screwed from a sub contractor

When you build a home, you have this moment when you say, crap, we hired the wrong guy.

I am there. This has been going on since our foundation dig and we are at insulation to give you an idea of how long.

We hired William Anthony Excavating out of North Kingstown, RI to handle the excavation of the house project after receiving numerous recommendations and bids for the work. This organization has proven to be unprofessional, unreliable and utterly incompetent.

Let me explain the series of events so you don’t have to suffer through the time and expense we have.

1. Hire even more local. Believe it or not, I wish we had used someone from our town. When we went searching for our excavators, one of our requirements was we wanted someone who was a licensed septic installer so we could compete the foundation excavation and septic installation at the same time. This would do two things for us: (1) provide a bigger job which makes bids more competitive; and (2) only have to excavate one more time at final grading and galley installation. We couldn’t find someone in our town that had their own equipment so we went to a bigger operation. This has proven to be a bad idea.

2. Don’t let them work when you are out of town. November was a very busy month with the house being under construction and preparing for the holidays. But it was also a busy month for work too, and I found myself travelling with my job every week back-to-back. There was a point when my husband and I didn’t see each other for eleven days we had been travelling on such opposite schedules. Excavation for the house went on while we were gone. I mean, how hard can it be? We gave WAE plans by our civil engineer (Dowdell) that were then approved by the town. We also had our Dowdell stake the foundation for the exact location of the house. We gave WAE instructions both verbally and via email and our landscape architects were stopping by the job to make sure everything was going in according to the plans. This was not enough. Not being able to stop by the job site daily and see what had happened proved to be a critical error.

3. Make sure they follow the plans. We made a big error on our part. When we did the scope-of-work with WAE somehow the installation of four galleys, that were not approved by the town or included on a single set of plans, got listed in the  SOW. Now, when errors like this have happened in the past, on a smaller scale, the subcontractor has always contacted us to verify information on  job. This did not happen on this job.

4. Before I left for GreenBuild I got a bill from WAE that the job was done. All I could think was; “It is? How is that possible; I haven’t seen anything?” At that point I hadn’t received a call from our engineer and there was still a huge pile of dirt in front of the house and the final rough grading wasn’t done. I asked my husband to check in on this (it’s November 16th). I called their office and spoke with Roseann and attempted to explain to her what I needed. I emailed her my list. “What’s up with the rocks? The huge dirt pile? The galley credit? Is the septic inspection done? Can we get an estimate for the next phase of work to be done?”(I always find people work better when motivated, usually it works. Not this time.) We told WAE what they needed to do and not to do on the job, e.g.; don’t spread the final pile of dirt without going through what the landscape architect has noted as grade to foundation or talking to Bill Dowdell.

5. I didn’t hear back from WAE, so I called my engineer. I explain to him what is going on and he is dismayed that the septic tank and pipes are in the ground, covered with dirt and graded. My engineer says to me; “He never called in his license number to me or a start of construction”. This is in direct violation of DEM. Awesome I think.

So the saga began.

Strike 1: We show up after getting back from Greenbuild (11/23) and the dirt is spread in massive clumps, holes and divots everywhere. The wood that was delivered is half covered in the mud. Awesome. WAE claims that though we told them not to spread the dirt, spreading the dirt according the height of the landscape architect’s plans was not on their SOW.  Apparently however, spreading it haphazardly and with large grooves, divots and holes was.

Strike 2: After ten days of silence from WAE (did I mention they told me that they only wanted to deal with my husband to which I responded, good luck with that), we followed with a week of arguing with them. Dowdell sends WAE a fax asking when the job will start (he already knows the septic is in the ground). Monday, December 1st, WAE calls in the Start of Construction for a septic tank that was already in the ground and covered.

Strike 3: Friday December 5th WAE agrees to show up on the job to “dig up the septic tank”. The Dowdell Survey crew goes to the site and discovers problems and calls WAE. Our engineer, Dowdell Engineering, tells WAE to dig out the tank. The 2-man crew arrives to run data which proves problematic. They rush back to the site before WAE leaves to verify the data. WAE is informed that the inlet pipe has to be raised and the tank riser (that they just replaced (so tank riser #2, the first one was wrong) is now too short. Dowdell leaves the site to allow them to complete the job. They tell Dowdell they have, and cover and grade everything before a final inspection by Dowdell.

Bill Dowdell returns to the site on Saturday, December 6thto find a 4” vertical pipe set as an inspection port at the inlet side of the tank. Dowdell again checks the connection and data; and studying the as-built inverts of the inlet pipe and outlet pipe in relation to the top of tank elevation and comparing them to the cross-section of the tank provided by the tank manufacturers, Dowdell concludes the tank was installed too low to make the D-box pipe where WAE wanted to tie into this not able to get to the D-box by gravity, so the installer (WAE) simply pulled the outlet pipe up to make it slope to the D-box pipe  (located approx 10’ downstream of the tank) thus making the outlet pipe 0.1” higher than the inlet pipe and rendering the tank useless as a settling tank and placing the inlet into a precarious backflow position. (Can anyone say hack job?)

By the way; did I mention the cover to this septic tank didn’t fit the riser and was never bolted? (Oh yes, see Abby fell in our Septic Tank.) This is just another example of the pure incompetence and disregard displayed by this company. Who, dare I ask, digs a six foot deep hole, and then doesn’t fasten the cover so any child walking along that may step on it can fall in?

Did I also mention how WAE (Tony) told my engineer that he wasn’t speaking to him after Tony “screamed at him on the phone”. There’s some pure professionalism for you. He then emailed Bill Dowdell this on Monday, December 8th, 2008: Per your recommendation this morning to lower the building sewer, I am proposing the following; We will return to the site and install a new 4” SDR 35 PVC building sewer at a invert provided by you to within 5’ of the proposed dwelling as per RI Plumbing Code. Upon your approval and provision of new invert elevation, we will return and re-install the building sewer as agreed upon. Please respond within 24 hours if possible as we will return to the site immediately for final resolution.”

But hold on we retorted; “We’ve already paid for Dowdell Engineering to go out to the site twice to certify your consistent errors, what is our credit?” In addition to these errors, we had to hire a second excavator, the very awesome Wilcox Excavation from Saunderstown (who remarked at how sloppy the excavation job WAE completed, as did his competitor, the contractor, the plumber and everyone else who had been on the site) to fix the grading mess WAE made with the pile of dirt I explicitly told their office manager not to spread without us present. I also told Raposo of WAE via email not to spread the dirt without first getting the information from my landscape architect. And, we had to redo the water calculations for the town for the unapproved galleys. So hold on WAE, let’s address all of the problems you’ve created before rushing back out to the job site.

What was William Anthony’s response, they cc: their lawyer. They point on the RI Mechanics Lien Law. They say their SOW didn’t include inspection fees (We never asked for inspection fees. Not once. We asked WAE to do their job. We know inspection is Dowdell’s job but how can he inspect if WAE covers up their work? Or if he never knows WAE was doing the work in the first place? And when there are repeated errors, how many times is the homeowner supposed to pay for the inspector to come out to certify faulty work?)

Honestly the whole thing has been a nightmare. We have tried graciously to work it out with them, offering to pay them for the work they did without problems but compensating us for the work that was defective and caused unnecessary additional fees. They however, had taken the hard-line stance and refused to even acknowledge that any of this was their fault.

So, we didn’t pay our bill, they fought back with the RI Mechanics Lien. In our mind, they didn’t do the work contracted and we tried to resolve it and come to a resolution but they aren’t even trying. So, we notified RI DEM stating WAE installed a septic tank without calling in a Start of Construction. They knew they raised the outlet and compromised the invert and they covered up that same tank before it was inspected.  We also called our lawyer for guidance who suggested we send a detailed letter stating our complaints, thier costs, our plan of action for filing greivances and the back up for all of the above. We did. We were contracted by their lawayer and concessions were made, they agreed to come back to fix the tank and have it inspected by their engineer. We said fine but our engineer had to inspect it too. They made monetary concessions on overruns they drove, they installed a brand new septic tank now with two risers, and they then credited us for the electrical trench they never dug (but charged us for).

So all the paperwork was completed the middle of May; and we had requested everything be comeplete by the end of May as we were heading into our final excavation needs. WAE missed their deadline (shocker) and after a call from my husband, WAE called in their new DIG number from DEM and notifed our engineer the day before that they were going to be onsite. Dowdell, a busy man, was booked and notified WAE as much. WAE flipped out on Dowdell and Dowdell finally said enough. The end result, DEM was called in to inspect WAEs work and render judgement.

What an ordeal, but as of today, we have a signed lien release and a working septic approved by RI DEM.

We’re fortunate that we have built before and because of that we knew what to do and what to ask for when things seemed wrong. We’ve also worked with the same engineer on four projects and trust him, his reputation is stellar.

If you ever find yourself in a similar situation with a contractor on a project, there are three things you can do immediately (1) call your town Building Inspector, their job is to help you; (2) call the organization that monitors the company’s license, in our case that was DEM; (3) call a lawyer for guidance, we did not know our rights under the Mechanics Lien law and that legal advice was critical in protecting us and ultimately getting the outcome we desired.

We finally got it done, but this was not a fun part of the project.

Had I known all this at the time, I would have asked for a Surety Bond to guarantee performance.

Anyone have their own contractor nightmare story? Feel free to share!

posted by KDL | follow me on Twitter: newscaster