The Investigators: Costly Construction

The Investigators: Costly Construction

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - If viewing this story on a mobile device or in an email, click the link for additional features -

An elderly lady who was forced out of her home after a massive fire is fighting an even bigger battle. The contractor she hired to repair her home allegedly took her money and never finished the work.

To make matters worse, The Investigators discovered the builder was never licensed to do the work.

Sue Taylor stepped outside of her Baton Rouge home to get a breath of fresh air. It is the only place she said she can find peace lately. Inside, her daughter and grandson were making repairs.

Her daughter, Susan Latting, and grandson, Troy, both admit they had no idea where to begin a year ago, but they have come a long way.

On November 29, 2014, Taylor's house was destroyed by fire. It was the day after Thanksgiving.

"I was sitting in my rocking chair in my living room and all of a sudden I heard a big loud boom," Taylor said.

Taylor said she smelled smoke and saw fire coming from her garage. She remembers running across the street to a neighbor's house where she watched her house burn.

"The flames just coming through the roof. It was unreal, there was not stopping once it started," Taylor said.

Fire investigators said an electrical issue caused the fire. Taylor said a friend recommended that she hire Precision Builders out of New Orleans to rebuild it.

According to the contract, Precision was "to furnish material and labor complete to restore the residence... to pre-fire condition for the amount of $194,000."

Taylor said the owner, Robert Lauer, promised the work would be finished in five to six months.

Taylor said after Lauer replaced the roof and installed the sheetrock, he began asking for more money, but she said he refused to show her any receipts for the materials.

"I said this has got to stop. Then he would do a little bit of work, and all he wanted was a draw (from the bank) for the money," Taylor said.

Taylor showed The Investigators seven payments she made to Precision Builders totaling just over $112,500. She said after the checks were cut, she noticed the project was falling behind schedule.

"He said he was getting to it as fast as he could and he was doing this and that, but he didn't do anything that I could see," Taylor said.

Taylor said last September she fired Lauer and decided to let her relatives finish the work.

"All I've got now is my social security and what little I have saved up. I'm using everything I've got and it's just putting me in a hole," Taylor said.

Taylor showed us complaints she filed with the Louisiana Department of Insurance, the Louisiana Attorney General, and the Louisiana Licensing Board for Contractors.

"We went to every place you can think of trying to get help," Taylor said.

Documents obtained by The Investigators revealed Lauer was licensed to do commercial work, which does not include home restoration projects. In February, the state licensing board fined Precision Builders $4,000 for "performing home improvement contracting without having a state residential building license."

Lauer responded with a letter explaining he "took the commercial general contractor's exam in 1992 at that time a commercial license could do residential construction." Lauer said he thought because he got his license before the law changed his license would be honored.

Sue Taylor and her relatives are not buying it, and they are demanding that further action be taken.

"I think he should never be able to have a contractor license again. I think he should have to reimburse my mother for the work we've done that he has gotten paid for," Latting said.

Taylor said her life has not been the same since she hosted Thanksgiving for her family nearly two years ago. She just wants to be home.

"It's been horrible. I've been sick, nerves, stress, anything you want to put on it. I'm not myself. I just need help," Taylor said.

Lauer declined an on-camera interview, but told The Investigators over the phone that the homeowner and her insurance company owe him money, and that he intends to sue them. He added that he would send documents supporting his claim but, to date, he has not done so.

Copyright 2016 WAFB. All rights reserved.