Homeowner claims contractor botched projectPublished 3:26pm Thursday, November 19, 2009
By JESSICA SIEFF
Nancy Fantetti was saving money for 20 years for an addition she’d planned to build on to her Edwardsburg home.
The house was relatively small, around 1,000 square feet. She wanted to redo her kitchen, add on to the mud room and build a great room.
“I’ve been wanting to put this addition on since I moved in here,” Fantetti said. “And I have been saving and saving.”
For Charles “Chuck” Lewis, such a project was something he said he’s been doing for years through his business – Simply Elegant by Design Construction, an Edwardsburg business he said he and his wife have worked hard together to build.
When Fantetti was ready to go ahead with the addition and Lewis offered his services, the two already knew each other, their kids go to school together and in late August 2008, Fantetti moved forward with the project, hiring Lewis to build the addition on her home that she’d been wanting for so long.
Now the two are in the midst of a heated dispute that led to a warrant for Lewis’ arrest on charges of operating as an unlicensed builder and on Thursday, Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz said the matter would be scheduled to go to trial.
Following Lewis’ construction on her home, Fantetti took pictures of the finished product, which included siding that seemed to be coming right off of the house; nails left in the rooftop; mold that had grown under the roof beams due to a lack of ventilation; trim with uneven positioning and portions of siding that didn’t match the existing color; and a door lock installed improperly and inoperably.
In the beginning, she said Lewis asked for checks to be written for payment of labor and materials, but as time went on the situation became more concerning to the homeowner and she began to question Lewis about his work.
At first, Fantetti said, she thought Lewis was making an honest effort and the quality of work was simply not what she expected.
“Now,” she said. “I think he conned me.”
Fantetti claims that Lewis lied about being a licensed contractor, that he “tricked” her into having her name put on the building permit for the addition which would technically label her as the general contractor able to have anyone build on her home.
Lewis admits he is not licensed in Michigan, but says he has been licensed in Indiana for the past three years and he said Fantetti was fully aware of that fact.
“The homeowner was fully informed,” Lewis told the Star Thursday. Fantetti never even bothered to call any of Lewis’ references, he said, something she readily admits.
“I just did everything wrong,” Fantetti said, calling the entire situation “a very hard, very expensive lesson.”
“These people seemed like very nice people,” she added. Still she said, “why I didn’t shop around for $50,000, I don’t know.”
The original quote Lewis gave to Fantetti at the start of the project was an estimated $55,945 at most. That number grew to $68,630 for just materials and labor. Fantetti said she has had to put additional money into the house to cover repairs to the siding, which fell off, the roof and other areas.
“I have to pay someone lots to redo this,” she said.
She claimed Lewis told her he doesn’t work on credit – so all payments were made by check.
The homeowner said she’d like to see restitution.
“That is was I’m hoping for,” she said. “But I still don’t expect to see it.”
Though she admits she should have checked into whether Lewis was licensed as well as checked his references before allowing him and his workers – who he said consisted mostly of family members including his children – she added, “I don’t want him to do this to someone else.”
The matter reached legal proportions after Fantetti claimed she refused to give Lewis his final payment when he demanded it before completing the project. She said she tried to keep Lewis from coming into her home; Lewis claimed she assaulted him and filed charges with police.
Once police heard Fantetti’s story, an investigation led to a warrant for Lewis’ arrest.
“I had to go to jail,” Lewis said claiming he was at the courthouse filing for a protective order against Fantetti and saying he planned on pursuing other legal action.
“I was falsely arrested,” he claims.
Lewis said there is a whole other side to the story – when asked to explain much of the work shown in Fantetti’s photos, he said he had photos of his own and said Fantetti “had a budget she was trying to keep intact.”
“She was in charge,” he said, adding that flaws in his work was “because of the environment.”
He also stated he’d recorded a conversation with Fantetti that would give an example of how their volatile their working relationship was, saying he tried to quit and she wouldn’t let him.
“I have nothing to flee from,” Lewis said. “I have done nothing wrong.”
A date for the start of trial would not come until after a pretrial hearing, Fitz said, who would not comment further on the case.
Until then, two families remain divided and two stories continue to be told.