Veloy and Michael Montano, who have fallen victim to two roofing scams in the past five years, say they feel robbed of more than just their money.
One of those botched jobs left carbon monoxide steadily leaking into their home for months. The leak led to chemical poisoning that’s unraveled some of Michael’s basic cognitive abilities and left him unable to work, according to a lawsuit the couple filed in 2015 against the now-defunct roofing company that did the repairs.
These days, Michael’s movements are slow and his speech is soft. He no longer can drive, enjoy 3- to 5-mile runs several times a week, or play the guitar while singing along with Veloy, whom he met while performing in a band when they were young.
“I did have an active life. And I’d love to have it back,” he said.
The Montanos, Security-Widefield residents who are in their 70s, are among the many households that have been targeted by “storm chasers” — companies that invade an area after extreme hailstorms and weather events. Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region has been battered by several such storms this summer.
The notorious storm chasers, whose crews often are unlicensed and unqualified, show up at customers’ doors to pressure them into signing a contract or lure them to strip mall offices with yard signs advertising the best deal in town. But once the contractors get the signatures they’re looking for, they often skip town without fulfilling their promises.
After the bill has been paid, little can be done aside from initiating costly civil litigation.
“Homeowners — honestly, they’re so trusting. They’ll sign a contract without even looking.” said Roger Lovell, building official at the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department, which licenses roofers. “And that’s where a lot of the problems start.”
To get a roof repair license, which can take up to five weeks, a company must provide references and undergo a background check. Sometimes, out-of-state companies will try to get away with doing the work without the proper license or a permit, or by asking a homeowner to pull the permit for the repairs, Lovell said.
The system has some safeguards. The Regional Building Department’s licensing committee may impose penalties on any licensed contractor that’s doing work without a permit, Lovell said. And, for each permit that a company gets using its license, the contractor must request and pass a follow-up inspection from the building department to be eligible for an annual license renewal.
However, if the company does not plan to stick around, renewing its license likely isn’t a concern, he said.
“My best advice is don’t sign a contract on the spot without doing due diligence, without checking to ensure that the contractor is indeed licensed,” Lovell said.
Checking to ensure that a company is licensed by the Regional Building Department, however, isn’t always enough. Out-of-state companies sometimes will use small, local companies as shells and offer them money to use their license to work in the area, said Scott Riopelle, president and owner of Denver-based Interstate Roofing, which has been in business for more than two decades.
Riopelle recommended looking for a local company that’s had an active license and worked under the same name and at the same location for several years.
Many roofing companies go out of business within two to four years — well short of the lifespan pledged in warranties they offer to customers, he said.
And a company’s websites can be deceiving, Riopelle said.
“The internet is changing the way things are done,” he said. “The more money you have, the bigger you can look online. The more money you have, the more recognition you get from Google.”
After her roof started leaking in 2013, Veloy Montano said, she spoke with a representative of the company because she saw the contractor doing a job for the hotel where she was employed. The contractor told her money was needed up front to purchase supplies, she said.
The Montanos paid the company more than $8,000 in September 2013, court records show.
While the work was being completed, the exhaust system on the Montanos’ water heater was disconnected, and colorless, odorless gas began seeping into their home on Leta Drive, according to the lawsuit.
Because the company did not obtain a permit for the work from the Regional Building Department, as pledged in its contract, the repairs weren’t subject to an inspection afterward, the lawsuit states.
The leaks weren’t discovered until Colorado Springs Utilities and Security Fire Department visited their home the following March, court records show.
By then, the damage was done. Michael had developed intense headaches, coupled with nausea, hallucinations, and tremors that resembled Parkinson’s disease. He would plead for help on his knees, said his wife, who often resorted to prayer when doctors weren’t able to give her answers.
“I took him to I don’t know how many doctors, emergency rooms, hospital after hospital,” Veloy said, adding that it was a physician’s assistant who eventually pinpointed carbon monoxide poisoning as the cause.
The Gazette was unable to confirm the diagnosis with a medical professional.
As of early 2016, Michael had racked up medical bills totaling nearly $50,000 from doctors, neurology specialists, laboratories and other practitioners, according to court documents.
The couple settled with the company in 2016, court records show. The details of that settlement are confidential.
Less than two years ago, another company — which also has since gone out of business — knocked on their door after a hailstorm, promising long-lasting repairs. They were, once again, taken advantage of by a contractor who did not follow through with what it pledged in its contract, the couple said.
Now, the Montanos and their three chihuahuas are staying at an area hotel and a Denver-based company — finally, one they are happy with — is replacing the roof on their home.
Many of Michael’s symptoms have eased with time, and his condition has improved with speech and physical therapy twice a week, his wife said.
They hope to return to work one day.