Janet Pandolfo and Efrain Roman, the dog’s owners, awoke to find their Maplewood home on fire.
Bean, a little French bulldog, saved his keepers’ lives.
That was Aug, 15, 2010.
“The house was destroyed,” Janet Pandolfo said. “We only survived because Bean woke us up and we escaped out a second floor window.”
While fighting the blaze, a firefighter fell through the charred first floor and into the basement, The Star-Ledger reported back then. The firefighter landed on his feet and was uninjured.
A faulty electrical breaker failed to trip and the basement electrical box started the fire. The damage was extensive, Pandolfo said.
Nearly three years later, their house still isn’t complete. The contractor — Avant Garde Engineering and LECC Construction of Maplewood — has been paid in full. Nearly $220,000, records show, but Pandolfo said her contact, Cenor Lundi, hasn’t return calls for months at a time.
“The contract was for $236,415.36,” she said.
But not so much anymore, they said.
“He disappears for months on end and doesn’t return phone calls,” Pandolfo said. “When you do finally get him, he makes promises and sends unskilled people to work on the home who work a few hours a week to give the impression work is being done.”
“The work was done incorrectly and needs to be re-done to bring the work up to code and obtain a Certificate of Occupancy,” she said.
The proposal, dated Oct. 31, 2010, detailed the work that was to be performed.
“The duration of this project, with city official cooperation will be 120 working days,” it said.
A total of $180,000 would come from insurance proceeds, and the couple added $40,000 of upgrades to the job, the proposal showed.
The insurance company would release payments — checks that needed to be endorsed by both Pandolfo and the contractor — in thirds.
The first payment was made on Nov. 1, records show, so with the 120-day window, the job should have been completed about four months later, on or about May 1, 2011.
But according to Pandolfo, that’s when the trouble started.
When the work began in December 2010, Pandolfo said everything seemed to be moving ahead at a good pace.
“Cenor answered my calls, returned calls,” she said. “Everything was fine from December until April 2011.”
In April, she said, Lundi said the construction would be delayed. They had to wait on some inspections so they could mark where the project stood for the second payout from insurance.
When the second payment was made, the job moved along again. By August 2011, Pandolfo said, the work appeared to be slowing down.
“We were reaching out to him, but I wasn’t getting calls back,” she said. “His voice mail was full.”
She made more calls, and none were returned, she said.
Until October 2011, when Lundi called to apologize for the delays, Pandolfo said.
He said things have been busy, she said, but they could take steps to move things along.
She said Lundi suggested they put in a quickie bare bones kitchen — not the upgraded one they had paid for — and put down carpets instead of the hardwood in the contract.
He said that would show the insurance company the job was moving along, and he could get the final payment and get back to work.
“He said if we wanted to get back in the house by Christmas, that’s what we had to do,” Pandolfo said.
So a cheap alternate kitchen was installed — and later replaced with the upgraded one — and Pandolfo said she endorsed the final insurance check of $78,000 on Oct. 31, 2011.
After that, silence.
Pandolfo said they didn’t again hear from Lundi until March 2012, despite more phone calls than she could count.
That’s when her boyfriend, Efrain Roman, started calling too. He finally reached Lundi.
“[Lundi] said he was very embarrassed and that’s why he wouldn’t talk to me,” she said. “He said the IRS seized his accounts and he didn’t have the money to finish the job, but that he would get it done, somehow.”
Public records show that indeed, Lundi has had some run-ins with the taxing authorities, but they date back well before Pandolfo’s job, with the most recent in 2002.
Plenty of items were not completed, Pandolfo said, despite Lundi’s promises.
They said their upgraded kitchen cabinets were eventually installed, but they’re marked with paint and plaster.
Hardwood floors were installed, but they were never covered over during work, so they’re scratched.
A brand-new wood deck was installed, but it was never sealed. It’s falling apart, they said.
Gutters and leaders have come down, as has some of the replacement siding on the home, they said.
The HVAC system was never connected, and the water heater and boiler were never hooked up, they said.
There is no banister on the staircase — a surefire code violation — and the landing is a foot shorter than it’s supposed to be, they said.
With all that work needing to be fixed, the house hasn’t had any final inspections. It would fail, Pandolfo said.
“I’m paying a $2,730 a month mortgage payment for years on a house I can’t live in,” Pandolfo said. “Plus, I’m living in a New York rental property that’s costing me $1,100 per month.”
“He has absolutely financially ruined me,” she said.
We asked Pandolfo what would make it right.
“I want money back because of work has been done incorrectly,” she said. “I’m looking at getting someone to come and give me pricing on what was done incorrectly so I can have an idea what I should sue him for, but that survey will cost me $3,000.”
FOLLOWING THE PAPER TRAIL
Messages left for Cenor Lundi at the company were not returned, and his cell phone’s voice mailbox was not accepting any messages. Email messages to Lundi were also not returned.
We took a closer look at Lundi and his companies.
In all, there are 19 judgments against Lundi — including the ones by taxing authorities — and only seven have been satisfied, court records show.
Interestingly, there are no business filings with the state for either LECC Construction or Avant Garde Engineering.
Avant Garde Engineering is not licensed with the Board of Engineering or the Board of Architects, according to state records.
LECC Construction, listed as located in South Orange in state records, has a valid Home Improvement Contractor registration with the state until Dec. 31, 2013, under the name of Marie Jacqueline Joseph.
Joseph has shared addresses with Cenor Lundi, and LECC shares an address with Avant Garde.
The name Marie J. Joseph also appears on some of Lundi’s judgments as an additional debtor, records show.
So we called the company, this time to speak to Joseph. She was not available, a secretary said, and neither was Lundi.
We asked the secretary which of the two was the owner of the company. “Lundi,” she said.
We asked if we were calling LECC or Avant Garde, or if they were the same? “The same,” she said.
One last shot: we left a message at a telephone number shared by the two at a residential address.
Finally, Lundi called us back, and he said he’s back to work on the house.
We asked why there was such a long delay with no contact.
“It’s all my fault. I didn’t have money to continue but I went back and started working again two months ago,” he said. “If they let me, I can finish in two weeks.”
Moments later, we talked to Pandolfo, who was visiting the house to meet our photographer. She said some items had been done, but he’s made things worse, not better, and they’d rather he not finish the job.
“Every time he does something the house is worse and worse and worse,” she said. “We lost our house, basically twice. Once to the fire, and once to Lundi.”
Despite the hardships, the couple said they — and their pup Bean, who misses her backyard — will get through it, no matter what happens.
“What’s ironic is I feel we’re lucky because lots of people lost everything in Sandy and are worse off than we are,” Roman said. “We just don’t want anyone else to go through these headaches.”
We’ll let you know what happens.