Published: Feb 18, 2011 12:16 AM EST
Updated: Feb 17, 2011 5:12 PM EST

LEE COUNTY, Fla. - Getting rid of Chinese drywall can be an expensive and time consuming project. If you don't get the right contractor, you can be left with a financial mess.

Diane and Rick Wilson chose Florida for their retirement because of the sunshine and friendly atmosphere. But their retirement got off to a rocky start after they hired a company to remove all the Chinese drywall from their home.

An acquaintance told Diane and Rick about Florida Gulf Painting. The company, run by a husband and wife team, claimed it could rid the Wilson's house of tainted drywall for a reasonable price of about $25,000.

"They pretended like we were friends," said Diane.

The Wilson's agreed to go ahead with the project. Two payments and $22,000 later, the Wilson's received some disturbing news.

"We was on the airplane coming back from Ohio, and they called us from the contractor and told us and they said that she hasn't paid," Diane recalled.
The subcontractors who provided the new drywall and performed the electrical work were putting a lien on the Wilson's home. Even though the Wilson's had paid a majority of their outstanding bill, Florida Gulf Painting had not paid the subcontractors.

"I paid. I did the right thing. I was honest. I did the right thing. So why is she treating everybody like this," asked Diane.

Florida Gulf Painting owed those subcontractors 5-thousand dollars and wanted the Wilson's to pay it.

"He retired as a police officer and our daughter just got married, so do the math. You think I got money like that?" said Diane.

Meanwhile, the Wilson's weren't happy with the work Florida Gulf Painting did without the help of the subcontractor.

"It's electrical, they did damage to my countertop. The plumbing is not correctly-- they put holes all in my walls and stuff and they just left it and I'm just so upset," Diane told WINK.

The Wilson's started checking on Florida Gulf Painting and found out, they weren't even licensed to do the work they were doing. That's when Lee County Building Services got involved.

"They were not licensed for any of the work that went beyond painting. They shouldn't have been pulling out cabinetry they shouldn't have been replacing wiring or anything like that," said Lee Community Development Communications Manager, Joan LaGuardia.

Florida Gulf Painting was cited because of this. Now, the company's owners must appear before a judge.

"They do face a $500 fine and each of them have been cited... it will be up to the discretion of the judge whether they make restitution, the amount of that restitution," LaGuardia explained.

But for Rick and Diane, the damage has already been done. Not just to their finances, but to their honest name.

"My name is ruined. My name is-- I'm so embarrassed," said Diane. "I just, I'm sorry anybody I referred her to. I just don't know what else to do."

We made repeated attempts to contact the owners of Florida Gulf Painting to get a response but they did not return our calls. As for Rick and Diane, they have a lawyer and are trying to work out a way to get the lien off their home. But this is a valuable lesson. If your contractor doesn't pay subcontractors, you could be held responsible!

Here are some tips to prevent this from happening to you:

--Always check your contractor's license.

     Certain professions, like a general contractor, are licensed through the state. Otherwise, check with your local municipality to see if they are licensed and if so, for what. Here's a link to the state's website to check a license. Here's a link to Lee County unincorporated to check a license.

--Have a valid contract.

     Don't do anything without a contract. Make sure that contract outlines what your payments are for. If they ask for money up front, the contract should itemize what that money is being used for. If there are subcontractors involved, it should discuss a release of lien so that those subcontractors don't come back to you for payment.

--Beware if you're asked to pay large sums of money up front or are asked to make out checks to individuals.

     Some people who do business legitimately use their individual names, but you should check into it. As for asking for large sums of money up front, because of the poor economy, some very legitimate contractors are asking for up front payments to cover the costs of materials. Just make sure that whatever money is paid out is itemized in the contract. You can then judge for yourself whether it is really going toward the materials.