WECT Investigates: Couple spends nearly $80k for botched pool install, learns contractor is unlicensed

The lining of the pool doesn’t fit the pool wall properly, leaving the inside of the pool with an odd, wrinkled look
Published: Feb. 2, 2022 at 11:03 AM EST

HAMPSTEAD, N.C. (WECT) - Thomas and Yolanda Ziegler recently purchased their dream home in Hampstead. They wanted to build a pool in the backyard for their special needs daughter who likes to swim, but had a hard time finding a contractor who was available to start work immediately.

“There are a lot of pool companies and because this area is growing so much, everyone wants a pool. And he was one of the ones that had a slot available,” Yolanda Zielger said of her decision to hire Sean Lesink of Lesink Pool Company, based out of Wilmington. She also checked out Lesink’s website and read several positive reviews.

But as work progressed, a few red flags popped up that made the Zieglers wonder if they’d chosen the right contractor. The lining of the pool doesn’t fit the pool wall properly, leaving the inside of the pool with an odd, wrinkled look. The Zieglers also had concerns about the grading of the land around the pool, and the electrical components not being up to code. Yolanda Ziegler said Lesink got very defensive when they began asking questions about the quality of his work.

“When we started questioning those things, he would not even talk to us regarding that. And that’s when I’m like, ‘I want invoices, I want copies of the permit.’ That’s when it really went wrong,” Yolanda Ziegler explained.

The Zieglers would soon find out that Lesink is not a licensed contractor in North Carolina. Under state law, a contractor must be licensed to charge for jobs over $30,000, and the Zieglers say they paid close to $80,000 for Lesink to install their pool. They also found out that he never pulled a permit with the county before starting the job, which is also required by law to ensure pools are installed in such a manner to prevent injuries and deaths due to drowning and electrocution.

The Zieglers hired Lesink in June of 2021. They say he assured them their pool would be ready by September or October at the latest. But by December, the work remained unfinished, and things had gotten so bad the Zieglers sent Lesink a letter to terminate their contract. They claimed he misrepresented himself as a general contractor, was rude in some of his communication with them and refused to meet with them on other occasions to discuss issues with the pool.

“We saved to do this. This is a big chunk [of money] for anybody. So [I’ve shed] tears. I wrote you. My stomach - I can’t tell you how much sleep I’ve lost over this,” Ziegler said.

The Zieglers hired an attorney and a pool inspector to help them figure out how best to proceed. They hoped to recover some of their hard earned money, and finish the job so they can one day use the pool. It’s now the central feature of their back yard, and they say it’s an eyesore in its unfinished state.

Certified pool inspector Wendy Pursor found more than a dozen problems with the pool when she arrived at the Zieglers’ home. In addition to the issues visible to the naked eye, she also found mechanical and safety concerns. Pursor filed a complaint against Lesink with the North Carolina Licensing Board for General Contractor’s Board on the Ziegler’s behalf.

WECT uncovered this is not the first complaint the Board has received about Lesink. Before being notified about issues with the Ziegler’s pool, the licensing board had already received two previous complaints about Lesink’s work from other homeowners.

The Board said Lesink is not licensed and has never received a license from their agency. They recently filed suit against him to keep him from taking on more projects. The Board has asked a judge to impose an injunction against Lesink, but that process can take around six to nine months to complete.

“When a person is unlicensed, the statutes allow the board to open an investigation. And if there’s evidence found to support the allegation of unlicensed contracting, then we can petition the court for injunctive relief against that contractor...ordering the contractor not to engage in work $30,000 or more without first being licensed. If a contractor [continues to take on larger jobs], and again, the board investigates and finds evidence to support, then we would file an action in the court seeking criminal contempt of court, which is punishable with 30 days in jail for each offense,” Licensing Board Executive Director Frank Wiesner told WECT.

In the six years since Wiesner has been with the Licensing Board, he’s seen the number of complaints against unlicensed contractors quadruple. That’s due in part to the continued growth North Carolina is experiencing, and the sheer amount of building going on here. As established contractors get backlogged with people looking to hire them, people are more likely to take a chance on start up companies that may or may not be licensed and experienced.

“Our investigators are running across the unlicensed contractors. And for some reason, pools are one of the areas that they pop up most frequently,” Wiesner said. “Unfortunately... we’ve got unscrupulous contractors out there taking advantage of people, you know, in some cases, it’s very intentional. In other cases, a contractor may get in over their head, or they are not capable of doing the job, or they’re not financially capable of performing the project... In [the Zieglers’] case, you’ve got a hole in the ground, and it’s unusable.”

While there is a homeowners recovery fund to help homeowners who hire licensed contractors who fail to complete the promised work, that does not apply in this case because Lesink is not a licensed contractor, and the fund only helps people recover damages on construction involving their primary residence. Vacation homes, and construction on pools and other auxiliary structures is not covered by the fund.

Whether you are installing a pool or doing any other kind of major home improvement project, experts recommend you check out a contractor’s license before hiring them to make sure it’s valid and active. Experts also say you also need to have a written contract, not just a verbal agreement. In the Zieglers’ case, they did have a written contract, but it wasn’t signed, so it is not legally valid. Make sure the contract details the work to be done, the materials to be used, and a payment schedule that ensures certain work must be completed before the next payment is due.

For a more detailed list of tips for hiring a contractor, click here.

Experts caution that if a contractor is available when every one else is booked for months, that could be a red flag. Ziegler says she wishes she had waited in line instead of choosing Lesink because he was able to start work right away.

“I would actually go with a bigger company. I would actually go with a company that’s been registered with the Better Business Bureau. I mean it’s sad because there’s a lot of good people that are trying to start their own small companies. But this has tainted me,” Ziegler said.

In addition to complaints filed against him with the Licensing Board, Lesink has other significant legal trouble. He made the news in 2019, accused of killing a woman in an hit and run accident on Carolina Beach Road. Lesink is scheduled to go to trial May 9 for her death.

Lesink did not respond to multiple messages from WECT seeking comment for this story.

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