Judge orders contractor to reimburse Harriman couple for unfinished remodeling job

HARRIMAN, Tenn. (WATE) - A judge in Roane County has ordered a contractor to reimburse a Harriman couple more than $20,000 for a remodeling job that was never completed. The contractor sued his customer, who in turn filed a counter suit.

Ken and Vanessa Smith last May hired a contractor to remodel their home and expected to move in within months. When that didn't happen, they kept pressing for the contractor to finish. They had paid a big sum of money in advance, but the contractor claimed they owned him money.

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What the couple didn't know about the man they hired was he has a criminal record and a reputation of delaying his work.

Judge Terry Stevens in Roane County Court last week ruled against Tim Russell after he sued Vanessa Smith. claiming she owed him money. She filed a counter suit claiming Russell didn't finish the remodeling job on her home in Harriman.  

In November, the Smiths hired another contractor to install new windows throughout their home being remodeled. Last spring, however, the Smiths had already paid Tim Russell to buy and install the windows.

"I'm disappointed, You pay so much money and trust a person to do a job and they're not following through with the job," said Vanessa Smith.

When the Smiths hired Russell they didn't know he been charged in Knox County for theft and had an extensive record in the state of Ohio, according to court records. 

Last May, as Russell Remodeling, he signed a contract with the couple and within three months had received two thirds of the $30,000 job in advance. However, by October, replacing the old siding and windows had not even started. There was no effort either in replacing the old, worn-out back porch.

Inside his house, Ken Smith showed how some remodeling had started, but then stopped. Russell assured Ken Smith he'll get his crew to finish the work by late October.

Russell, however, never completed his contract. Out of their own pocket, the Smiths paid thousands more for doors and windows and to close their home for winter.

"If we had known all this, we would have done it ourselves. We wouldn't have fooled with poor old Tim," said Ken Smith.

Mary Dailey was able to identify Russell from a mugshot, saying she had hired him two years ago to work on her wood deck in Knoxville. She said it took him months to replace two railings and some spindles, and paint the deck. He charged her $1,000, but already the newly painted deck has cracked and is fading.

Dailey recorded Russell's reasoning for why it was taking him so long to finish his work.

"I just left the doctor after having illness over the weekend, ended up having food poisoning," he said in the recording. "My brother is getting out of the hospital today also."

At the time Russell was doing business as T.R.'s Painting and Remodeling.

In Kingston, when Russell didn't show up for court last week after suing Vanessa Smith, the judge had no choice but to dismiss Russell's case. He then heard the Smiths' countersuit. They won a nearly $24,000 judgment.

"I'm very happy for Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Hopefully now they'll be able to get a contractor who can do the work for them and get their home finished," said the Smiths' attorney Ragan Holloway.

The couple hopes to complete the remodeling project by early spring. They've already found another contractor to work on the home.

The Tennessee Contractor's Board has a list of licensed contractors. The Better Business Bureau can also provide information, as can social media sites.

Contractors will want some money up front, but usually no more than a third of the total cost. Then you pay in increments, but never pay in full up front. If possible, make sure there is a date of completion written into the contract.

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