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  • Writer's pictureKeeper

Unscrupulous Contractors

When I purchased Fairport Harbor West Lighthouse, I needed a reliable contractor to manage the project and find and procure competent subs such as plumbers, electricians, painters, and tile installers. Since I was not often onsite, it was more important than ever for me to find someone I trusted and could handle the job.

Being from a different part of the country made it especially difficult to network and receive recommendations about reliable contractors. But I had a few friends and acquaintances in the NE Ohio area, so I began asking around. Through my networking, I met a contractor named Mark from Opus Building, LLC. When I met with Mark, he seemed smart, eager, and able to handle the challenges of renovating a dilapidated building that had been sorely neglected and needed a lot of work. After checking his references (all positive), he and his “employee,” Dave began working on my number one priority: the windows.

All the windows in the lighthouse were in sad shape. The frames and sills sported years of peeling paint, the glass was missing, the ropes and pulleys busted, and the plexiglass that the Coast Guard installed to replace the missing glass was cracked and broken. Each window was covered inside with a sheet of plywood that was sealed shut to keep out the elements. The lower-level windows have original cast iron shutters that were closed from the outside, and many of the upstairs windows’ rails and stiles were completely missing. I knew that repairing the windows would provide much needed light and air and significantly improve the ability to work on other projects within the lighthouse.

Mark and his “team” (it turns out just his sidekick, Dave) began by trying to open the cast iron shutters and, in the process, damaged many of the original hinges. They tried stripping decades of paint from the wooden frames, but, frankly, were already over their heads in not knowing the nuances of repairing historic windows.

As the story goes, one day Mark and Dave were at the lighthouse frustrated by the amount of effort it was taking to restore each window, when a guy named, Paul, who had been out for a swim, happened by. Mark, Dave, and Paul began a conversation about what needed to be done to repair the windows. Paul, it seems, was much more knowledgeable than either Mark or Dave in what it took to repair a historic window, refinish the wooden frames, replace the glass, and ensure the weights and pulleys were working properly. Mark hired Paul on the spot, and Paul began a new chapter in the restoration work.

What I didn’t know at the time was that Mark and Dave proceeded to abandon Paul to work singlehandedly on the eight lower-level windows and the two transom windows that hung above the east facing double doors. Fortunately, Paul was a master craftsman and talented woodworker who treated the windows with the utmost respect. He worked diligently to repair each part, refurbish the wood frames, replace all the glass (16 large panes), and ensure they each worked flawlessly. Frankly, the windows are now beautiful.

As I later found out, after Paul started, Mark and Dave were no longer around, never checked on Paul or his work, yet continued to bill me for way more work than was being accomplished. When I would visit the lighthouse to see the progress, Mark usually met me and showed me a few “completed” things that could have been done in a matter of minutes.

In fact, one time Mark proudly showed me that the front door had received a new coat of “Coast Guard green” paint. I was immediately suspicious. Why would anyone in the middle of a massive restoration project paint the front door? With the amount of work still left to do and the tools and supplies that were coming and going through that door, it was bound to get beat up over and over. Although I was not an expert contractor or renovator, I knew that painting the front door should be one of the last things to complete.

Despite being unhappy with Mark’s work, particularly the progress vis-à-vis what I had paid him, we began work again in the summer of 2013. It wasn’t long into that summer that I had had it. It was clear that Mark did not know what he was doing, was way overcharging and underdelivering, and had to go. I fired Mark and told him to clear out all his tools immediately.

Of course, along with him went Dave – who was far more unscrupulous than Mark – and Paul. In fact, there was an incident where Dave wanted to get something from the boat I was using for transport, which was moored at the Western Reserve Yacht Club in Fairport Harbor. Not having a keycard to access the secured property, Dave took it upon himself to break into the yacht club by disengaging the security gate. Once on the premises, he was confronted by a yacht club member who witnessed him breaking in. Dave was rude and extremely confrontational, so the member called the police. Dave promptly jumped back in his truck and left before the police arrived. As if poor workmanship, shoddy business practices, and lack of oversight weren’t enough, breaking and entering were now part of the Opus scope of work.

Once I totaled up the amount paid to Opus Building and not receiving adequate work in return, I filed a lawsuit hoping to recover some of the money. After nearly a year of legal back and forth, I was happy to finally get to court and have a judgement awarded in my favor. Unfortunately, I never recovered a dime of the award because – as contractors often do – Opus Building was disbanded, and Mark claimed no personal assets. I was now out a significant amount of money and legal fees.

For the remainder of 2013, I recruited friends and volunteers to help paint the inside of the lighthouse and continue with the restorations on my own. The time, effort, and money I put into Mark for the little I got in return was disheartening to say the least. But despite not having a contractor, I was determined to keep moving forward.

The Return of Paul

It’s somewhat of a blur as to how, but in 2014, I reconnected with Paul. I don’t remember whether he called me, or I called him. As I was still struggling without a contractor, I asked Paul if he’d be interested in coming to work at the lighthouse directly for me. He agreed. So, for the next few years, Paul worked for me on various restoration projects around the lighthouse.

The windows were finally completed and looked amazing. They let in tons of light and, when opened, a cool breeze from the lake. Paul worked on miscellaneous projects including patching the leaky roof, hanging pictures, and repairing a broken mirror. And while an excellent craftsman, Paul came with an attitude.

Initially, Paul made demands that he said he had previously negotiated with Mark. The main one was that he wanted to be reimbursed for mileage to and from work. While I first agreed to pay that to have him continue working, it soon became a bone of contention between us as no one gets mileage reimbursement for commuting to work.

Other requests he made soon began to annoy me as did his inability to provide estimates for projects in advance and his lack of business and computer/technical skills (his invoices were handwritten, and he couldn’t email or text updates or photos). My respect for his business practices and communication skills continued to deteriorate until we parted ways in late 2018.

From 2019 on, I have relied solely on individual tradesman, friends, and volunteers to complete projects at the lighthouse. In fact, the individual tradesmen I used to paint the outside of the lighthouse, rewire the electrical throughout, install the plumbing, and tile the three bathroom showers, were recognized by the State of Ohio with an Award of Merit in October 2022 for their outstanding work renovating and preserving Fairport Harbor West Lighthouse.

I have yet to see a dime of reimbursement from winning the lawsuit against Opus Building, LLC.

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