DENVER — Kevin and Noelle Collins wanted to modernize the 1951 bungalow they had lived in for 18 years in Denver’s City Park neighborhood, but after the couple hired Schwalb Builders to renovate their house and paid the company more than $250,000, the Collins said they were left with an unfinished remodel that has been red-tagged by the city of Denver.
“This is my house, and I ruined it,” an emotional Kevin Collins told Denver7 Investigates. "They just didn't come back. We moved back in, and they were gone. We just thought remodeling would be the best way to go."
Now, an independent engineering report states that the house needs to be stripped back to the studs and rebuilt.
The Collinses are not alone as complaints are mounting against the Denver-based remodeler. The company is now facing multiple lawsuits and court orders, as customers say the contractor is nowhere to be found.
Another former Schwalb customer, Henning Klingenbjerg, said he saw red flags much earlier in his basement remodel.
"We wanted to push out a wall," said Klingenbjerg, who added he was concerned about inaccurate plans and poor communication. After deciding to move on from Schwalb, Klingenbjerg said he never got his deposit back.
"We lost $16,500, but at the end of the day, I believe we dodged a bullet. Unfortunately, it seems like there are other customers out there that are way worse off than me," he said.
Denver7 Investigates obtained multiple lawsuits against Schwalb Builders and its owner Sean Schwalb, all filed in the past 15 months.
In two of the cases, Arapahoe County judges issued judgments ordering Schwalb Builders to pay roughly $146,000 and $218,000, respectively.
"This is not a typical case," said Jason Krueger, a construction law attorney who is representing Kevin and Nicole Collins.
Krueger said the lawsuits and the "F" rating from the Better Business Bureau are telling, but he and the Collinses said it was Sean Schwalb's Instagram account that topped off their concerns.
"He had a lot of fancy cars, and he was in Cherry Creek. He was in Miami," said Kreuger. "But yet he wasn't present on job sites, and his social media didn't really reflect that he was a contractor as much as he was trying to be, like, a fashion influencer."
Kevin Collins said he found the posts showing a luxury lifestyle off-putting at a time when he couldn't live in his own home.
"He's skydiving. He's got exotic cars, Givenchy and Gucci watches," said Collins. "It hurts because you give somebody money that's your nest egg, and it's like he's laughing."
An independent engineering report by Englewood-based Unified Building Sciences & Engineering, Inc. found that Schwalb Builders was not licensed in Denver and did not obtain the necessary building permits. The report called the work performed "highly deficient" and the house "unsafe to occupy."
For the Collinses, the report's recommendations were shocking: "We recommend that the interior of the home be demolished back to the rough framing stage, the framing and structural members corrected, and the plumbing, electrical, HVAC, insulation, and finishes reinstalled."
While Sean Schwalb would not respond to specific questions or complaints, he stated in a brief phone call that he had completed 380 projects in Colorado in 3.5 years.
"Everything was done correctly," said Schwalb.
However, the City of Denver issued a stop work order, and the Collinses are beginning the long legal process of taking Schwalb Builders to court.
"They ruined my home," said Kevin Collins, who said he paid Schwalb $260,000 out of the $285,000 project, but can no longer live in his home. "They say raise your family. Be a good person, and that's what I've done. And now I'm in limbo. I knew this was happening, and I didn't know what to do. I couldn't stop it."
Denver7 has also learned that Northglenn police are investigating Schwalb Builders, but criminal charges against contractors can be difficult to pursue.
While Colorado has several laws to protect people in civil court, such as the Consumer Protection Act, the Construction Defect Action Reform Act and the Colorado Construction Trust Fund Statute, going to court is a long, expensive process.
Even if customers win, the business may not pay the judgment, Kreuger said.
"A judgment oftentimes is only as good as the piece of paper it's written on, unless there's some kind of assets or insurance that's applicable," said Krueger. "Unfortunately, if you do nothing and choose to walk away, you walk away from those rights as well. So a judgment will follow somebody for a very long time and so you can try to collect after that."
Here are some BBB tips for hiring a reputable contractor.