Peggy Bohn and Bert Stewart were shocked when they opened their Gazettes on Saturday and saw a photo of landscaper Cliff Miller at the Colorado Springs Home and Landscaping Show.
Bohn saw the photo and considered going down the home show to confront Miller about the unpaid $7,500 court judgment she won against the landscaper a year ago.
“It entered my mind to stand there and tell people not to hire him,” Bohn said.
Stewart was so angry he did drive down and confront Miller, demanding he pay the $3,800 court judgment he won against Miller and his Mountain High Landscaping and Lighting Co.
“I paid my $6.95 and went in because I wanted to confront him,” Stewart said. “I said: ‘Do you have the money you owe me?’ And he said: ‘No.’ I was told by the people who run the home show not to confront him. So I left.”
The episode is an important lesson for anyone contemplating hiring a landscaper or any contractor or handyman.
Bohn hired Miller in 2009 to build retaining walls at her northside Colorado Springs home. She checked references and was satisfied he was a competent landscaper and hired him for the $15,000 job.
“But we were stupid,” Bohn said. “We gave him 50 percent in advance.
“He never started. But he took our money.”
In 2010, Stewart met Miller at the home show and hired him to build a $7,000 patio at his Chipita Park home, paying Miller nearly $3,800, in advance. You guessed it. He never built the patio.
Bohn and Stewart say they called and emailed Miller, trying to get their jobs done. But all they got was excuses. Miller blamed the delays on his divorce proceedings and bad health. Eventually, both Bohn and Stewart gave up and sued Miller in Small Claims Court to get their money back.
Bohn said Miller came to court and eventually agreed to pay $7,500 over 18 months.
“He paid me $100 in January 2010 and $100 in February 2010,” she said. “Then he defaulted. He owes me $7,300 plus 8 percent interest a year.”
Stewart won a $3,853 judgment against Miller. It also is unpaid.
I reached Miller by phone. He admitted he owes both Bohn and Stewart.
Miller became angry when I asked why he didn’t do the work or repay the money.
“I’ve been sick,” he yelled at me repeatedly.
So why take their money when he knew he was too sick to work?
"I thought I was getting better," he yelled.
So where's their money? Why not just repay them?
"I'm trying," Miller yelled. "Don't you get it? I've been sick! And someone screwed me out of $200,000. I'm trying to get that back."
Miller said he has suffered seizures and memory loss, which left him unable to work. And he insisted he was repaying Bohn and willing to work with Stewart.
Bohn scoffed when I told her Miller said he was repaying her.
"He acts like he wants to pay you but he never does," she said. "We never should have given him 50 percent in advance. We were stupid, stupid."
Carol Odell, of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado, said others should learn from this case. She urged anyone considering hiring a contractor should first make a quick check of the BBB’s website. In Miller's case, customers would have learned he had an “F” rating for failing to respond or resolve three complaints.
And she had other advice.
“First, only use Better Business Bureau-accredited members because they’ve been vetted,” she said. “Get three bids. Check references. Read any contract thoroughly. And never put more than one-third down. And only after you feel really comfortable with the contractor.”
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Side Streets Bill Vogrin