TAMPA, Fla. (FOX 13) - Hillsborough County Consumer Services launched an investigation into a Brandon pool company Tuesday after receiving several complaints from homeowners that unpaid subcontractors had placed liens on their houses.
One of the homeowners facing this situation is Donna Lawler, who hired Exclusive Pools to build her family's pool. In March, she says, she agreed to pay the company nearly $50,000 and, several weeks later, wrote checks totaling about $37,000 once the project began.
"I was told that my pool would be ready in August," said Lawler, who said she received several estimates, but chose Exclusive Pools because a relative recommended them.
Over the summer, however, work on her pool stalled.
"At that point, they have almost $37,000 of my money and I still had to keep calling and asking what's going on?" she said. "I had to keep asking them, 'Where are we at? What's going on?' And they kept giving me excuses that it was a rain delay."
But in June, Lawler received two past-due payment notices indicating Exclusive Pools hadn't paid a subcontractor.
This month, after months in limbo, her jaw hit the floor. According to the Hillsborough County Clerk of Courts, a subcontractor has now placed liens on 18 homes where Exclusive Pools was contracted to do work.
She began reaching out to those homeowners and the stories were all similar to hers. Lawler began tallying the amount of money each of those homeowners have spent on the unfinished projects. Nine of the 18 have responded and, all together, they have spent more than $400,000 with Exclusive Pools.
"There's a lot of us and a lot of money at stake here and now we don't know where to go and how to get this completed," said Lawler.
Four of those homeowners have filed complaints with the county's Consumer Protections Services Department, which sent an investigator to the business Tuesday afternoon.
"That's an unusually high number for complaints and is indicative of something going on," offered Eric Olsen, the department's division director. "There's one single investigator that has all of those complaints. He's actually at the business today, right now perhaps even working to address the issues that are going on. With a large number of complaints all at once, that's a big red flag. So when we get cases like that, when we have a large number of complaints, we really want to reach out in person to the business to try to get the ball rolling and see where we go from there."
Olsen said he expects homeowners in similar situations to reach out to his department.
"You're not always going to be able to anticipate this kind of thing happening, but when it does, we want people to know that they can reach out to us. We're available to guide them and try to assist in the process," he said, adding homeowners should contact an attorney and potentially law enforcement if they believe a crime has been committed.
A FOX 13 crew stopped by Exclusive Pools and spoke with an employee, who said the business plans to complete the unfinished projects. The worker also said the owner, Pat Reardon, was unlikely to call with a comment.
If Exclusive Pools doesn't finish her pool, Lawler is now concerned the project will cost twice as much as she planned because she'll have to find a new contractor.
"It's disturbing, it's a lot of stress, a lot of anguish," she added. "I've lost a lot of sleep over this."