April 4, 2006
We courteously address ourselves to the following individuals and corporations:
· John Demco – Demco Law Firm, attorney for Windermere
· Craig and Rosalie Shriner – owners of Windermere
· Paul H. Stickney – as individual; as real estate agent for Windermere; as President of Paul H. Stickney Real Estate Services. Inc.; and as Vice President of Trust Me Construction, Inc. (“TMC”), incorporated and unincorporated, and DBA Trust Us Construction, (“Stickney”).
, DBA of V&E Medical Imaging Services, Inc.
· Herman, Recor, Araki, Kaufman, Simmerly & Jackson – attorneys for AHS
· Courtesy copy: Better Business Bureau of Dupont, Washington
Dear Sirs, Madam:
The first purpose of this letter is to acquaint you with the facts concerning a situation that you have mutually created for us, and for which we hold you jointly and severally responsible.
The second purpose of this letter is to ask that you state your intention. Do you intend to make up the damage you have done, to make us “whole”? In brief, we want to know whether you will willingly, without litigation, do the right thing by us and the community.
We apologize, but we must insist that you respond to us, telling us your disposition and intention towards us, in ten (10) business days from receipt of this letter. We have been prevented from giving you more time due to the precipitous actions of one of you, Automated Home Solutions, in bringing a lawsuit against us. We must know your disposition and intention before implementing our next course of action.
We propose using the forum of the Better Business Bureau to settle our differences. It is our understanding that the Bureau cannot lend its facilities to those in litigation. Therefore, it is in your mutual interests to have AHS withdraw from its lawsuit.
We will now tell you about some of the things you have done to us. In those we mention, we also tell you how the people of the State of Washington regard such actions by referring to the Revised Code of Washington.
The documentation for our complaints (as they have been thus far documented) can be found at a locked webpage:
User ID: lemmesee
This letter with hot links to relevant documentation may be found at http://www.renovationtrap.com/letter-1.html
Paul H. Stickney, while operating as real estate agent under the brokerage of Windermere Real Estate, S.C.A. Inc. breached the fiduciary trust we placed in him. As a result of his actions and the actions of those who cooperated with him in this enterprise (some of those named above), our lives, health, and safety were put in danger, and we are on the verge of financial ruin.
Upon inspection of demonstrable facts and examination of relevant Washington laws, Stickney may be found by relevant authorities to have committed gross misdemeanors, and:
Windermere’s responsibility for Stickney’s actions is clearly established by RCW 18.85.155:
Responsibility for any salesperson, associate broker or branch manager in conduct covered by this chapter shall rest with the broker to which such licensees shall be licensed. In addition to the broker, a branch manager shall bear responsibility for salespersons and associate brokers operating under the branch manager at a branch office.
And RCW 18.86.100 (2):
… This subsection does not limit the knowledge imputed to a real estate broker of any facts known by an associate real estate broker or real estate salesperson licensed to such broker.
1. During the entire time we have known Stickney (from April 2004 to February 2005 and to present day), he has represented himself as an agent under the brokerage of Windermere Redmond, a branch office of Windermere Real Estate SCA / Inc. And during this time, he presented himself as uniquely qualified to give advice on investment in renovation and subsequent resale value.
1.1. We first went to Stickney on April 4, 2004 to help us with the paperwork for an offer on 8209 172nd Ave., NE, Redmond, WA (“The Cottage”), which was for-sale-by-owner (FSBO). Stickney identified himself with his Windermere business card and filled out the MLS offer forms in his own hand.
1.2. When negotiations for The Cottage were not successful, Stickney continued as our Windermere agent, selecting dozens of prospects for us to review from the Windermere website, and meeting with us to show the interiors of those we selected.
1.3. In April and May 2004, Stickney wrote two unsuccessful offers for us on what we will designate as the “Lake Hills house” and “Connie’s house.”
1.4. In April and May 2004, Stickney also researched two other properties that we were considering and advised us against purchasing them (“Moshe’s house” and “Union Hill”).
1.5. In May 2004, Stickney continued as our consulting real estate agent, assisting us in the re-evaluation, offer, and purchase of The Cottage.
1.6. On June 9, Stickney wrote a statement for “services rendered” to enable us to recover relocation expenses from Mark’s employer. On that statement, Stickney identified himself as “Paul H. Stickney, CRS, Windermere Real Estate.”
1.7. On February 22, 2005, still operating as our real estate agent, Stickney composed a document of comparable listings to enable us to achieve the most advantageous appraisal on our house for refinance. On that document, Stickney identified himself as “Paul H Stickney / Windermere Real Estate S.C.A.”
2. To achieve the critical step of demonstrating affordability in our decisions to purchase, Stickney brought in contractors. One contractor was not licensed with the State of Washington Department of Labor and Industries (L&I). Another contractor was operating on a suspended license and had been found guilty of a number of infractions. Stickney presented both contractors as persons of utmost reliability.
2.1. In April 2004, Stickney brought Peter Oakes ("Oakes") to the Lake Hills house and introduced him as a contractor who would give us an estimate – to advise us on the practicality and affordability of renovating the property. At that time, Peter Oakes’s contractor license was under suspension. In 2002, Oakes had been cited by L&I for working as a plumber and electrician without licenses in those trades. Stickney did not give us this pertinent information and thus violated the fiduciary trust we placed in him. As of February 2006, Oakes’s L&I fines, were still unpaid and had been sent to a collections agency.
2.2. In July 2004, Oakes was presented as an employee of Trust Me Construction, on-site supervisor on our job, and months later promoted as supervisor of all TMC projects.
2.3. In April 2004, Stickney brought Bob Trustworthy to the Lake Hills house to give us an estimate and to advise us on the practicality and affordability of renovating it. At that time, Trustworthy’s company, Trust Me Construction, was unregistered, unlicensed, and not bonded in the State of Washington. Stickney did not give us that pertinent information and thus violated the fiduciary trust we placed in him.
2.4. In May, 2004, Stickney brought Bob Trustworthy to The Cottage to advise us on the practicality and affordability of renovating it. We were in the process of reconsidering the purchase, and the renovation potential was a key factor in us deciding whether to purchase the property. At that time, Trustworthy’s company, Trust Me Construction, was not registered, not licensed, and not bonded in the State of Washington. Stickney did not give us that pertinent information and thus violated the fiduciary trust we placed in him. At that meeting, Stickney wrote the TMC estimate in his own hand.
2.5. In June 2004, Stickney again brought Trustworthy to The Cottage to discuss with us the possibilities for renovation and the scope of work. Again, he presented Trustworthy’s company as having utmost reliability, and far superior to any others in quality of work product and pricing. Trustworthy’s company was not licensed, registered, and bonded in the State of Washington until October 5, 2004.
2.6. RCW 18.235.010 defines unlicensed practice to include “Representing to a consumer, through offerings, advertisements, or use of a professional title or designation, that the individual or business is qualified to practice a profession or operate a business.” Thus, both Trustworthy and Oakes were in violation of Washington licensing laws.
3. Stickney’s action in seeking job opportunities for suspended and unregistered, unlicensed contractors is defined by Washington Law to be “unprofessional conduct.” (See also 5.5)
3.1. RCW 18.235.130 (9) defines as unprofessional conduct any licensed professional “aiding or abetting an unlicensed person to practice or operate a business or profession when a license is required.”
4. Stickney deceitfully withheld from us his long-term vested interest(1) in TMC and the TMC enterprise, thus offending against the codes and regulations of the National Association of Realtors, the Revised Code of Washington, and good conscience.
4.1. When TMC registered with the State of Washington as a contractor in October, 2004, Stickney was named as the vice president of TMC.
4.2. In 2001, Stickney sold a house to Mr. J., Esq. and brought in Trustworthy to assure the J. family that the property could be renovated within the available budget and timeframe. Trustworthy’s crew subsequently proved to be incompetent for the renovation.
4.3. In the week prior to May 20, 2004 while we were in the process of deciding whether to purchase The Cottage, Stickney wrote the first 4-page TMC estimate for the renovation in his own hand, without revealing his vested interest(1) in TMC.
4.4. On June 8, 2004, Stickney and Trustworthy met with us at The Cottage to make detailed plans for the renovation. Stickney recorded the meeting and wrote a 7-page transcription of the discussion, outlining the scope of work, financing options, and the terms for TMC’s work, without revealing to us his interest in TMC.
4.5. In an email in February 2006, Stickney, still concealing his intimate involvement with TMC, stated he is still “using” TMC: “Regarding Trustworthy, we actually are on the TMC bandwagon and never did get off ... We are using TMC, now TUC - Trust Us Construction. In my opinion they offer the most value for the money.”
4.5.1. TMC’s contractor license with L&I was suspended in November, 2005, making every day of work since then an infraction under RCW 18.27.340, and every referral from Stickney an infraction under RCW 18.235.130 (9)
4.6. On information and belief, there have been other victims of the Stickney Team, both before and after our encounter (see 4.2 and 4.5, above).
5. Stickney’s conduct is seen to be in violation of multiple codes and regulations.
5.1. The Code of Ethics of the National Association of Reators® (Effective January 1, 2004), Article 6-1 states that, “REALTORS® shall not recommend or suggest to a client or a customer the use of services of another organization or business entity in which they have a direct interest without disclosing such interest at the time of the recommendation or suggestion.”
5.2. RCW 18.85.230 (3) makes “Knowingly committing, or being a party to, any material fraud, misrepresentation, concealment, conspiracy, collusion, trick, scheme, or device whereby any other person lawfully relies upon the word, representation or conduct of the licensee” subject to disciplinary action by the state director.
5.3. RCW 18.85.230 (23) makes “conduct in a real estate transaction which demonstrates bad faith, dishonesty, untrustworthiness, or incompetency” subject to disciplinary action by the state director.
5.5. RCW 18.235.130 defines the following as unprofessional conduct:
5.5.1. Dishonesty, whether the act constitutes a crime or not (1)
5.5.2. Incompetence, negligence, or malpractice that results in harm or damage to a consumer (4)
5.5.3. Aiding or abetting an unlicensed person to practice or operate a business or profession when a license is required (9)
5.5.4. Practice or operation of a business or profession beyond the scope of practice or operation as defined by law or rule (10)
5.5.5. Misrepresentation in any aspect of the conduct of the business or profession (11)
6. It is the duty of real estates brokers to protect the public from unethical practices of their agents.
6.1. RCW 18.85.155 states, “Responsibility for any salesperson, associate broker or branch manager in conduct covered by this chapter shall rest with the broker to which such licensees shall be licensed. In addition to the broker, a branch manager shall bear responsibility for salespersons and associate brokers operating under the branch manager at a branch office.”
6.2. RCW 18.86.100 (2) states, “… This subsection does not limit the knowledge imputed to a real estate broker of any facts known by an associate real estate broker or real estate salesperson licensed to such broker.”
6.3. RCW 18.85.230 (22) makes any broker who fails to supervise adequately “the activities of his or her licensed associate brokers and salespersons within the scope of this chapter” subject to disciplinary action by the state director.
6.4. RCW 18.235.130 defines as unprofessional conduct any “Failure to adequately supervise or oversee auxiliary staff, whether employees or contractors, to the extent that consumers may be harmed or damaged”
6.5. Not only did Windermere Redmond real estate brokerage fail in its responsibility to supervise Stickney throughout his proven habitual conduct in this area, but Windermere itself referred members of the public to TMC without revealing their vested interest(1) through their agent, Stickney. See affidavits:
6.5.1. Leigh Hearon of Leigh Hearon Investigative Services
6.5.2. Carol DeCoursey
7. Given this long-standing situation and pattern of practice, the conduct of Windermere, Stickney, and Trustworthy/TMC may fall under RCW 19.86, Unfair Business Practice and Consumer Protection Act (“CPA”) and/or statutes that reference same.
7.1. According to the King County Bar Association, the judicially-established criteria for proving a CPA violation in the consumer context are set forth in Hangman Ridge Training Stables, Inc., V. Safeco title Insurance Company, 105 Wn. 2n 778, 784-785, 719 P.2d 531 (1986). Under Hangman Ridge, the plaintiff must prove five distinct elements:
(1) unfair or deceptive act or
8. TMC undertook a time and materials contract with an upper limit of $90,565 (net and pre-tax) to renovate the DeCoursey home.
8.1. The working October 12, 2004 estimate was $139,350, of which (by line item):
8.1.1. $11,271 was sales tax
8.1.2. $4,200 was paid directly to an independent mason
8.1.3. $7,600 in appliances was paid directly to an independent vendor
8.1.4. $12,500 heating system was provided by an outside contractor
8.1.5. $4,800 hardwood floors was provided by an outside contractor
8.1.6. $8,414 in other expenses (plumbing fixtures, toilets, light switches, tiling supplies, etc.) from the plan were paid directly by us
8.2. Those external contractors and vendors were known to be external to TMC when the estimate was written and during the progress of the work.
8.3. The June 8, 2004 Stickney transcript describes the “range estimate” in part as follows: “While a job is underway, a logical, what’s right approach occurs where certain potential things that could be done to a house become self-evident and this upper limit recognizes this truth.”
8.4. Given that Stickney is the vice president of TMC, we now take his word as a written promise from a company executive. At the time that Stickney, our fiduciary, told us about the “range” estimate and that the higher number was truly the limit, we took him at his word.
9. On April 22, 2005, TMC billed us for $211,166, more than twice the original estimate. They left the house unfinished and minimally livable, laden with construction defects, without an occupancy permit, and more than five months behind schedule.
9.1. See April 22, 2005 invoice
9.2. See Construction Defects list
10. Stickney and Trustworthy gave us legally incorrect and possibly criminally actionable advice on a scheme to evade state sales tax on the labor costs of the renovation
10.1. Stickney and Trustworthy advised us from the beginning that by purchasing the building permit, naming ourselves as “general contractor” and hiring TMC as “consultant,” sales tax on labor would not be required. That was among the many “rights” alluded to in Stickney’s June 8 transcript.
10.2. According to Washington State Law, tax avoidance is not possible through that mechanism.
10.2.1. WAC 458-20-170 Constructing and Repairing of New or Existing Buildings or Other Structures upon Real Property
10.3. Despite the correctly computed tax line on the estimates, the detailed April 22, 2005 invoice from TMC indicates that out of a “Total Expenses to date” of $211,166, TMC paid only $4,691 in sales tax (“Total 019 Sales Taxes Paid,” page 17). The details in that section indicate sales tax had been paid at source on materials, but no tax had been paid on labor.
11. Stickney, Trustworthy, TMC, and TMC employees violated state laws and standard building practices in the process of the renovation.
11.1. TMC failed to give us a Notice to Customer, which failure is defined as an infraction under RCW 18.27.114
11.2. TMC failed to pay state sales tax for moneys collected
11.2.1. April 22, 2005 invoice, page 17
11.2.2. WAC 458-20-170 (3)(a) Prime contractors are taxable under the retailing classification, and subcontractors under the wholesaling classification upon the gross contract price.
11.2.3. WAC 458-20-101 (2) Persons required to obtain tax registration endorsements . . . every person who is engaged in any business activity for which the department of revenue is responsible for administering and/or collecting a tax or fee, shall apply for and obtain a tax registration endorsement with the department of revenue.
11.3. TMC started the work in June, 2004 without construction permits
11.3.1. April 22, 2005 invoice, page 2 entries for July 2004 et seq.
11.3.3. R108.6, Redmond Building Code (International Residential Code, 2003 Edition)
11.4. TMC failed to obtain all required permits
11.4.1. See Construction Defects, Section 1
11.5. TMC operated from April 2004 (and apparently before) until October, 2004 without state L&I contractor license, concerning which each day TMC of offense is considered a separate infraction (RCW 18.27.200)
11.6. TMC performed $8,882 in plumbing work without a licensed plumber
11.6.1. See TMC April 22, 2004 invoice, page 13
11.7. TMC installed an unstable cantilevered extension based on wooden timbers that is currently shifting and noticeably misaligning other elements of the house. More than 100 sq. ft. of floor space in the kitchen and dining room rest on this cantilever. The fatal flaw in the design is resting the bearing wall for the scissor-trussed roof on the outside of the cantilever. The entire structure is less than 3 feet from grade, and should have been supported by standard concrete foundation elements, according to construction experts we have consulted.
11.8. TMC left many other major construction defects in the building, including a swayback in the roof, faulty and nonstandard roofing application, and substandard workmanship in drywall, tiling, plumbing, electrical, venting, insulation, kitchen counters, trim and woodwork.
11.9. TMC failed to have building inspections signed off at appropriate times and in the correct sequence, including key structural elements of the cantilever
11.9.1. See City of Redmond Building Permit Inspection Record
11.10. See also Section 16 of this letter concerning subcontractor, AHS. As hiring agent for AHS, TMC is also responsible for the AHS infractions.
11.11. Every infraction under RCW 18.27 constitutes a violation of the Consumer Protection Act (RCW 18.27.350)
11.12. As prime contractor, TMC is also responsible for the infractions of AHS. See Section 16 of this document
12. The Cottage will require more than $200,000 of work to be restored to the standard of housing expected by the renovation project plans, the Redmond community, and the International Building Codes.
12.1. Estimate from Empire Remodeling and others—not yet complete.
13. Despite our payments to TMC totaling $161,876 (more than 165% the original estimate), TMC failed to pay subcontractors, some of whom are now seeking payment directly from us through collection agencies.
13.1. Watertite Gutter Company; Watertite has sent Asset Recovery Group, Inc. (collection agency) to collect directly from us. Watertite does not appear on the TMC final invoice, suggesting TMC had no intention of paying the bill.
13.3. (Possibly) Par Dee Sales; Par Dee has filed suit on TMC.
13.4. (Possibly) Dunn Lumber, and possibly others
14. Without revealing fact or intent to us, TMC hired AHS as a subcontractor for the line voltage work.
14.1. Trustworthy and Stickney had stated that the AHS employees would be put on the TMC payroll
14.2. AHS did not provide us with a Notice to Owner as required by state law, by which we would have been informed of their true status.
14.2.1. RCW 60.04.031 (1) provides that “every person furnishing professional services, materials, or equipment for the improvement of real property shall give the owner or reputed owner notice in writing of the right to claim a lien.”
14.3. Through this vehicle, TMC attempted to commit us to a time and materials contract without limit
14.4. Predictably, the cost of line voltage installation in our open-frame house rose without control to a combined bill of $18,087.53
15. The final TMC bill (April 22, 2005) for line voltage work was more than five times the original estimate ($3,600). The line voltage bill totaled at $18,087.53, of which AHS billed $12,508.53 and TMC billed an additional $5,559.00 for TMC personnel and supplies.
15.1. December 15, 2004 Labor Detail shows that AHS workers began line voltage work at The Cottage on November 30, 2004
15.2. Feb 2, 2005 invoice is apparently the first invoice produced by AHS
15.3. May 31, 2004 statement, apparently the one and only statement presented to TMC by TMC for materials and labor.
15.4. The May 31, 2004 statement, in combination with all other documents produced by AHS, purport to show that no payment was ever received by AHS from TMC. Yet AHS continued to send workers to the job site from December 2004 through April 2005.
16. In the course of the job, AHS violated state law, standard building practice, and the civic building code.
16.1. AHS failed to obtain the proper permits and inspections
16.1.1. According to the City of Redmond electrical inspector, Jeff Sheppard, in an email dated March 1, 2006, the new 200 Amp main panel has not been inspected: “As we discussed on the phone the other day your new service panel should be inspected; that would be items #105 and #135 listed on your permit.” According to Evergreen Building Inspection Services (“EBIS”), the new installation does not meet code requirements.
16.1.2. The new grounding systems for the main panel were not permitted or inspected. According to Jeff Sheppard's email, the grounding should also have been permitted and inspected (#105). AHS did not ground the system to the water pipes and gas pipes as required by code and (according to EBIS) the work does not meet code requirements.
16.1.3. The new downstairs bathroom and bedroom built without permit by TMC were wired by AHS apparently without permit or inspection. The new bedroom contains the new 200 Amp panel that was not inspected, and the new bathroom shower was left by AHS with open energized wires in the shower stall.
16.1.4. The new hard-wired smoke/fire alarm system was not permitted or inspected, neither wiring nor fixtures
16.2. AHS left multiple electrical hazards to human life and safety in multiple rooms
16.2.1. The bathtub drain was electrified to 110 volts AC, resulting in electrification of tub and shower water. A human body immersed in the water would complete the circuit to ground by contacting the bath spigot, shower spigot, or valve. According to professional electricians, this situation was a danger to human life. See related news story 'Bizarre' Electrocution Prompts Home Builder Lawsuit, February 21, 2006, Internet Broadcasting Local6.com
16.2.2. Bare energized wires were left in the shower stall and bathroom wall switch
16.2.3. Bare energized wires were left open to the weather on the exterior of house
16.2.4. The Romex cabling in the attic was laid loosely on the rafters without fastening or harness, contrary to standard trade practice and the civic building code.
16.2.5. See list of hazards found to date in Construction Defects, section 4.
16.3. AHS purchased supplies and billed those invoices to our job after they ceased working on our job. Those supplies were obviously not used on our job.
16.4. These multiple errors and infractions fit the definition of Unprofessional Conduct on the part AHS owners and Lester Ellis, Electrical Administrator. RCW 18.235.130 defines unprofessional conduct as: “Failure to adequately supervise or oversee auxiliary staff, whether employees or contractors, to the extent that consumers may be harmed or damaged.”
16.5. These multiple errors and infractions also fit the judicially-established criteria for proving a CPA violation in the consumer context (see 7.1 in this document).
16.6. AHS did not deliver to us the necessary manufacturer’s warrantees and instructions for the smoke/fire alarm system.
17. On Stickney’s recommendation, we hired AHS to provide a structured wiring solution with distributed music and communications (data and telephone), known hereafter as "low voltage."
17.1. AHS failed to give us a Notice to Customer, which failure is defined as an infraction under RCW 18.27.114
17.2. AHS's low voltage work was not done in accordance with the agreed design. We have no data and telephone lines in the office.
17.3. AHS left the job unfinished, failed to install an audio patch panel, failed to install mud rings to mark the location of speaker wires, allowed the speaker wires to be covered by drywall, and failed to provide a location map of those wires.
17.4. AHS withheld manufacturer’s warrantees, and did not give us the paperwork on their own contractual warranty
18. AHS filed a fraudulent lien on The Cottage, sent a collection agency to harass us, refused to respond our documented and reasonable objections, and made no attempt to complete their contract. Now they are suing us for money they say they have not received from TMC.
18.1. On May 23, 2005, AHS hired Construction Credit Corporation of Seattle to file a lien on the property, with multiple factual and procedural errors.
18.2. TransworldSystems, a collection agency, has sent letters demanding payment on behalf of AHS.
18.3. AHS is suing us in the King County District Court. The complaint contains numerous false statements of material facts, including assertions that “all work was performed in a workmanlike manner.”
19. We have suffered financially in the loss of assets, loan interest, mortgage opportunities, and tax advantages by reason of the cost overruns and missed deadlines.
19.1. To pay the excessive bills from the renovation, we sold an IRA and will be accessed unexpected taxes. We have suffered other financial hardships, been forced to refinanced the property with an ARM. When it matures, at a time when we are perhaps too old or sick to work, we may lose this house and be forced into homelessness. We took a second mortgage, took a loan with a Savings and Loan, borrowed from our life insurance plans, and borrowed cash from credit cards. We have been forced to pay usurious interest rates, and are being pauperized through this cause alone.
19.2. Now we are facing substantial legal costs to defend ourselves from AHS's legal suit.
20. Amid a house full of defective workmanship and incomplete projects, we have been denied the peaceful enjoyment of our home.
21. We have suffered emotionally distress/pain and suffering/deleterious health effects through the willful deceit, negligence, and financial hardship inflicted by the unlawful actions of Stickney, Trustworthy, AHS, and the negligence of Windermere.
We hold each of you jointly and severally responsible for the hardship we have endured as a result of your respective deceit, incompetence, illegal activities, neglect, and avarice.
We, and the experts we have called in to help us, are still assessing the full extent of the damages inflicted upon us, and the dollar amount it would cost to make us whole.
As stated at the beginning of this letter, our purpose today is simply to ask you if, in a neighborly fashion, you intend to do the right thing by us, and recompense us for the damage you have done. If so, let’s make it possible to settle this matter in an amicable way, as neighbors, without litigation, using the Better Business Bureau to find an agreement.
Given our current legal situation, we must request you respond to us in writing, through letter or e-mail, within ten (10) business days of receipt of this letter. We must interpret no response at all as a negative response.
Thank you for your time and attention to these matters.
Mark and Carol DeCoursey