Bastrop homeowners: Burned by wildfires, now by contractor


by ANDY PIERROTTI / KVUE News and Photojournalist ERIN COKER

Bio | Email | Follow: @AndyP_KVUE

Posted on October 31, 2012 at 10:51 AM

BASTROP COUNTY, Texas -- First their homes were destroyed by the 2011 Labor Day wildfires, now some Bastrop County homeowners say they feel victimized twice -- not by Mother Nature, but by a contractor they paid to rebuild their homes who walked away from the job.

Christie Hardinger and her husband, JD Barton, are one of those families.

"I mean, we had no time. I was able to get the van out of the back of the house, get her loaded and grab two dogs, her battery charger and leave,” Barton explains the day the fires destroyed their home.

Hardinger is bound to a wheelchair, and they’ve lived in a FEMA trailer for nearly a year since the fire. To rebuild, they hired 5J's Construction out of Lexington for about $154,000.
According to their contract, 5J’s estimated it would complete their home in June. Today, it's far from finished.
"The plumbing is not finished over there. The electric work isn't done over there," said Hardinger.

At last check, the hardwood floors aren't done, and the bathtubs are still in boxes too.

Cari and Kevin Croft, who live a few miles away, also hired 5Js Construction.

"This is what you see on the news. This is not what happens to you, and we just felt stupid," said Cari Croft.

According to the Croft’s contract with 5J’s, they paid the company nearly $200,000 to rebuild their home that was destroyed by wildfires.
5J’s was supposed to finish framing, installing windows, doors and other projects by July. Not only do the Crofts say 5J’s didn't finish the job, now subcontractors are threatening liens on their home because they claim they were not paid by 5J’s.

The Crofts think they know why. “It's a cycle. They kinda rob Peter to pay Paul, and somebody's got to take the hit in the end," Cari argued.

Sheila Bouland hired 5J's Construction too. Records show she paid the company more than $20,000 to turn a storage unit into an apartment for her father who suffers with Alzheimer’s. The storage unit was initially damaged by wildfires.

Taking a look at the work, KVUE not only saw unfinished work, but the windows are broken. When the home inspector came to check out the work, the report said nearly everything needed to be changed.
"So, I gave that report to Mr. Washington. He was not happy, but he said to trust him, that he would fix it. That fix never came," contends Bouland.

That was in March.

To get answers, the KVUE Defenders called, texted and emailed JC Washington, owner of 5J’s Construction for nearly a week.

After not getting an explanation, the KVUE Defenders visited him at his house where his business is based. When we asked to get his side of the story he said, "I really don't want to talk without my lawyer present."
While neither he nor his attorney ever called to talk, the KVUE Defenders did check him out with the Better Business Bureau. Less than a month ago, 5J’s had an “A-” rating. Now, the BBB says it’s under review.

Not all of 5J’s customers the KVUE Defenders spoke to were unhappy. The owner of one home, who didn’t want to be interviewed, said he was satisfied with 5Js’ work to rebuild his home.

That's not the case with the three homeowners who contacted KVUE. All feel they were victimized twice -- first by wildfires, then again by a contractor who took their money, but didn’t finish the job.

"Unfortunately, when the fire came, I think a lot of contractors just felt like this was the Bastrop lottery," said Bouland.

Read a Texas attorney newsletter on recent regulations for contractors operating in Texas and a warning to Bastrop County fire victims.

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