Jasmine Melian, a physical therapist assistant at a Houston inpatient rehabilitation hospital, was at work last week when her children and 2 month old grandson lost power at the onset of Texas Winter Storm Uri. They immediately sought shelter with a relative and Jasmine joined them after she got off of work, and together they awaited the return of power.
The family returned to a completely flooded and damaged home. The water was flowing for days. Their home suffered major damage and their belongings were waterlogged and ruined. The next morning, things were looking up as Jasmine recalled having met a plumber at a local hardware store several weeks earlier. He had given her his business card in case she ever needed plumbing work.
Jasmine reached out to the plumber, explaining the disaster, and the need for repairs. The plumber met her at her home, and gazing around at the damage said, “this is going to be a big job, at least 2-3 thousand dollars. I need at least $1,000 to go buy the parts because I can’t use my own money. I also don’t accept Zelle or credit cards because my card reader froze.” He didn’t climb up into her attic to view the busted pipes. Jasmine didn’t have $1,000, but desperately wanted to get her family back in their home as quickly as possible. She borrowed the money and gave the plumber cash. He promised to come back the next day at 7 am to start the work and assured her that he had his own supply of parts and didn’t need to rely on Home Depot or Lowe’s. The next day, however, he didn’t show and said he was having trouble locating parts.
Over the next few days, he exchanged more text messages with Jasmine, each time telling her that he could not find the parts or that he was busy with other jobs. The plumber continued to schedule times for the work to be done, but each time, he never showed up. As of right now, Jasmine and her family remain displaced, still in need of major home repairs, and are out $1,000.
“I wish I would have called Lone Star Legal Aid before I gave the plumber $1,000. I now know so much more about my rights as a homeowner. Hopefully others will be informed and not be taken advantage of,” shared Jasmine.
Lone Star Legal Aid can assist survivors of natural disasters with recovery issues like home repair fraud. Our lawyers recommend homeowners never pay for the entire job up front. This will allow the homeowner to ensure that the contractor doesn’t disappear or rush their job, and that payment is made for work performed. Always reserve at least 10% of the contract amount for a punch list of items that need to be resolved before final payment. Whenever possible, the homeowner should purchase the materials to be used in the home. This may prevent a contractor from filing a Texas Mechanic’s and Materialmen’s Lien. For more tips, review Texas Winter Storm Resource – How to Avoid Home Repair Fraud in the Wake of Disaster, prepared by Lone Star Legal Aid’s Disaster Advocates.
If your contractor refuses to complete the job or proves to be suspicious, you can report them to the Better Business Bureau, the Texas Attorney General, the local district attorney, and Lone Star Legal Aid at 1-866-659-0666.
Lone Star Legal Aid is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit law firm focused on advocacy on behalf of low-income and underserved populations. Lone Star Legal Aid serves the millions of people at 125% of federal poverty guidelines that reside in 72 counties in the eastern and Gulf Coast regions of Texas, and 4 counties of southwest Arkansas. Lone Star Legal Aid focuses its resources on maintaining, enhancing, and protecting income and economic stability; preserving housing; improving outcomes for children; establishing and sustaining family safety and stability, health and well‐being; and assisting populations with special vulnerabilities, like those who have disabilities, or who are elderly, homeless, or have limited English language skills. To learn more about Lone Star Legal Aid, visit our website at http://www.lonestarlegal.org.
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