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'We didn't plan for this': Homeowners displaced by fire get the runaround from contractor

Posted at 7:23 PM, May 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-16 00:25:36-04

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Disaster has now struck twice for a group of homeowners, who are still displaced more than a year after their houses caught fire.

The 41 Action News Investigators tracked down the man responsible for completing the work on those homes and learned our investigation isn't the only one he's facing.

It all started on March 2, 2019.

Sharon Martini, 81, remembers pulling up to her street and seeing the emergency vehicles.

She heard the words every homeowner dreads.

"Someone came up to me and said these four words: 'There's been a fire,'" Martini recalled.

Fire and smoke filled seven homes at Greenbrier Apartments & Townhomes at 83rd and Antioch.

"Everything on our second floors was covered with water and soot, so that was all wiped out," Bonnie Schwarzenholz, another resident, said.

The damage was too severe for the tight-knit group of homeowners, who call themselves the "Antioch 7," to return home.

Within a couple days of the fire, the Antioch 7 jumped into action and got bids for the repairs to their townhomes.

A company called Superior Restoration and Construction, which previously did work in the neighborhood, came recommended.

The homeowners were impressed by owner Cory Poulsen, who they found to be personable.

"We were in shock. Had Santa Claus walked in here and said, 'I will save you all,' we would have said, 'Where do I sign?'" Schwarzenholz said.

Abatement work began soon after they signed their contracts with Superior that March.

The homeowners felt they made the right choice, but that quickly changed, just like their estimated move-in dates.

"Oh October, oh you'll be fine in November, you'll be fine in December," Martini remembered being told, "And about the end of the year is pretty much when they stopped doing anything over there."

Superior Restoration offered excuses for the delays.

"We'd meet with them and they'd say we're scheduled to do this next week or we're going to do this in a couple weeks, they should be in there to finish this," Kate McCabe, another homeowner, said.

Now, more than a year after the fire, the job is far from done.

The walls in Martini's townhome haven't progressed beyond sheetrock.

"This place I lived in for 35 years is a foreign territory right now. I walk in, and I'm not at home," Martini said.

"We're still living in a hotel suite," Schwarzenholz said.

Each homeowner and insurance company handled payments with Superior differently.

Schwarzenholz said 80 percent of her claim was forwarded to Superior in one lump sum. Martini's contract with Superior authorized State Farm to pay the company directly for repairs.

Because no receipts have been provided to them, the homeowners aren't sure how exactly their insurance money has been spent thus far.

"Probably $750,000, close to $1 million if you add each insurance payment that went to him," Schwarzenholz said, "How much of it went into the homes, how much of it didn't, I don't know."

They haven't been able to ask Poulsen.

"We've tried to call him, we've tried to text him, and you get absolutely no answer," McCabe said.

The Subcontractors

The homeowners aren't alone in not being able to contact Poulsen.

"Finally, he just quite answering my text messages," Jerry Senter, a project manager for Insco Environmental, said.

Documents show Insco Environmental was hired to complete asbestos abatement at the townhomes.

Senter told the 41 Action News Investigators his company's work on the roughly $90,000 job wrapped up last June, and Superior made payments on that total up until October.

In a February text, Poulsen told Senter he would pay in full once he received a check that would be released after inspections. Senter's messages show Poulsen stopped responding by March.

"He owes me $32,000," Senter said.

Another contractor, Wallboard Specialties, had to place a lien against Martini's townhome for nearly $5,000 because Superior had not paid for their work.

Records show this isn't the first time Superior Restoration got into a payment dispute with a subcontractor.

Nielsen Construction took the company to court in 2017 to recoup $17,500 for materials and labor. Court documents show the judge sided with Nielsen, ordering Superior to pay the full amount.

Finding Poulsen

The 41 Action News Investigators tracked Cory Poulsen down at his home to get answers.

He said he was getting ready to leave and asked if we could set up a time for the interview in the following week. We agreed to meet then but also tried to get answers that day.

When asked if he had the homeowners' money, Poulsen responded: "No, and I'll reach out to all of them as well. I had a project manager that was handling all that staff."

The 41 Action News Investigators also asked about all of the delays.

"Yeah, it was — we originally — there was some variation to the schedule, but yeah, I'd love to chat more about it on the 12th," Poulsen said.

He canceled the May 12 interview, so we rescheduled. He proceeded to cancel again, saying he was delayed at appointments and could not meet with us at his Overland Park office.

It's a location we learned his business is being evicted from. Court documents show Poulsen and his company owe the landlord $35,000.

Next Steps for Homeowners

The Antioch 7 have been busy seeking new bids for the repairs at their townhomes.

McCabe's estimate is $60,000. She may also have to replace her cabinets. The $6,000 ones she purchased are in Poulsen's warehouse, and McCabe said she still can't get in touch with him to get those back.

Schwarzenholz said her bids are in the $70,000-80,000 range.

It's a steep price for a group of mostly elderly homeowners on fixed incomes.

"We plan our finances, and we didn't plan for this," McCabe said.

"I'm going to have a bake sale," Schwarzenholz said and laughed, "I'm going to have to work with whatever I can do. Maybe borrow some money."

Martini's daughter started a GoFundMe campaign to help the Antioch 7.

The homeowners also took their case to the Johnson County District Attorney's Office, which opened an investigation.

"I am angry, and I want justice," Martini said.

They also just want to go home.

After the 41 Action News Investigators got involved, Poulsen reached out to Schwarzenholz and said he would sit down with the homeowners next week to go over the finances for the project. We will follow up to see if that happens.