After seeing an ad, they called Aqua-Dri Waterproofing.
“We thought they’d be reputable,” said Arlene Dolce, 65. “We were lied to.”
The senior citizens said the company was dishonest about contract provisions and refused to refund a $3,000 deposit. Here’s how it happened.
During the initial inspection on Oct. 5, Arlene Dolce said the salesman declared there was black mold — the dreaded stachybotrys chartarum — which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says can lead to fungal infections in those with compromised immune systems.
Given that they’d both had health issues in the past, the Dolces wanted it gone.
The cost? $20,000.
They were shocked at the quote to treat the 878 sq. ft. space, so the salesman quickly started to drop the price, they said. $12,000. Finally, $10,000, but only if the couple would sign the contract that day. They’d have three days in which they could cancel the contract if they changed their minds, Arlene Dolce said the salesman explained.
They decided to go for it, but they asked the salesman to honor the price for 90 days instead of the 30 days stated on the contract. They wanted time to clear out 32 years of paperwork, photos and boxes from the basement.
The salesman agreed, making a handwritten note on the contract and initialing the change.
The salesman gave the couple one more form, titled “Water Proofing Waiver of Recision,” which would allow the company to perform emergency service.
“We asked why we had to sign this since we did not want emergency service, and the salesman explained it was a standard form everyone had to sign in case we called them and wanted the service done within the three-day review period,” Arlene Dolce said.
The Dolces said they asked if the form would affect their ability to cancel the contract during the three-day period, and they said the salesman said they could still cancel.
The couple signed and gave a $3,000 deposit on their Chase MasterCard.
THE RIGHT OF RESCISSION
Later that evening, the couple had second thoughts about the cost and the fact that they hadn’t solicited other estimates.
They checked Aqua-Dri’s rating with the Better Business Bureau. A grade of “F” with 28 complaints. (That number was up to 35 when Bamboozled checked last week, with six of the complaints concerning “contract issues.”)
The next day the Dolces said they faxed and called Aqua-Dri to cancel, and they also sent certified letters to company addresses in Old Bridge and Windsor.
The company didn’t issue a refund.
The Dolces next called Chase to dispute the charge.
Soonafter, Chase told the couple it spoke to Aqua-Dri’s Al Demola, who said the couple asked for emergency work and he had a crew lined up for the job.
“This totally contradicted the change they made for us to have 90 days to complete the job, and they granted in his favor,” Arlene Dolce said.
The Dolces even contacted Roseland police, but they were told it was a civil matter.
In the meantime, the couple got an estimate from another waterproofing company: $5,000. The company also said there was no way Aqua-Dri could have diagnosed black mold without sending samples for a lab test.
The Dolces hired the new company, but they weren’t done with Aqua-Dri.
“They never set foot on our property again and have charged us $3,000 for absolutely nothing,” Arlene Dolce said. “They deceived and misled us about the rescission form and lied to us about it not affecting our right to cancel.”
The couple filed complaints with the BBB, the Division of Consumer Affairs and they prepared to take Aqua-Dri to small claims court. Before filing, they contacted Bamboozled.
THE RESOLUTION, WE HOPE
Consumers who sign contracts in their residences for home improvement services have a three-day right of rescission. Three days to change their minds.
Consumer Affairs confirmed that waterproofing services fall into that category.
The waiver of rescission signed by the Dolces is meant for emergency services, such as if a homeowner had a flood and needed immediate remediation.
The Dolces didn’t have an emergency, so there’s no reason they should have been asked to sign that form, which directly conflicts with the 90-day extension that was handwritten and signed by the salesperson on the contract.
In addition to the BBB complaints, there are eight others filed against the company with Consumer Affairs. Allegations include “failure to return deposit or payment,” spokesman Jeff Lamm said.
We contacted Aqua-Dri’s Al Demola to ask for an explanation of the contract issue.
Demola said he tried to reach Arlene Dolce and “left her like 20 messages.” (The Dolces said they received no messages from Demola or anyone from the company after the couple tried to cancel the contract.)
They signed the waiver of rescission, Demola said.
We asked why they’d be asked to sign the waiver if they explicitly said they needed time before the work could begin.
“Maybe there was a miscommunication,” Demola said.
A miscommunication? The salesperson initialed the change to 90 days yet also gave them the waiver form. That doesn’t sound like a miscommunication.
Demola said he’d “resolve it” if Arlene Dolce would call him in two days.
While we waited the two days, we contacted Chase about the dispute. We showed the lender the contract and it said it would immediately reconsider.
Then the couple talked to Demola.
“He agreed to send us a MasterCard refund for $3,000 on Jan. 3,” Arlene Dolce said.
They’d have to wait, Demola said, because the person in his office who processes refunds will be out until then.
Then the Dolces talked to Chase, which said it will remove interest charges related to the $3,000 — approximately $160. Chase would also ask Demola to send his intention to refund the money in writing, which would allow the lender to pursue the company if it drags its feet, the couple said.
Citing customer privacy issues, Chase wouldn’t discuss the case, and Demola didn’t return our follow-up calls.
“It isn’t over yet,” John Dolce said. “But at least there’s a plan thanks to you.”
We’ll let you know when the couple gets their money back.