$9,000 for a sprinkler system inspection?

By Mary Elizabeth Williams-Villano

A billing dispute between a landscape contractor and a client may end up in court.

A $95 sprinkler system inspection ended up costing a Temple, Texas woman $9,000. This misunderstanding was the subject of a news story on KCEN-TV.

Shirley Osenga told a reporter for the station that she’d initially hired contractor Ruben Alvarez to inspect her sprinkler system for $95 and do some landscaping work. But he ended up charging her $9,000 and told her he expected to be paid in full.

Alvarez also spoke to the station’s reporter. He told a different story. “I went over every single thing that was getting done with them,” Alvarez said. “They had to approve it. I'm not going to just do stuff without getting approval. How are you going to get paid?”

Alvarez did get paid, according to the story, but Osenga later began to question what work the contractor had actually performed. In a phone call, Alvarez told the station’s reporter that he would return to Osenga’s home to refund $250 for a control box she didn’t need and said he would be willing to show her where the money was spent.

“They knew about everything that I did there,” Alvarez told KCEN. “I did not do anything wrong.”

A few days later, according to the story, Alvarez dropped off two refund checks for a total of $950. Later, Alvarez texted Osenga’s son, Greg Artz that he’d mistakenly charged the family over $700 in taxes. Artz, who says he “knows how irrigation systems work,” had begun questioning the bills.

In the text, Alvarez reportedly wrote, “I am refunding $706.36 for the taxes mistakenly charged,” but defended other charges.

According to the story, the text also said “I did not charge $1,180 FOR A PUMP! I charged $1,180 for 3 leaks she had on the right side of their house and to completely repair the pressure safety release pump, I called it the booster pump.”

But this account apparently differs with what Alvarez had written on the invoice: “Added booster pump to add pressure to lines.”

The story says that Alvarez charged the family for the leak fixes separately on the invoice. On the phone, he told a KCEN reporter “What I told her, I said ‘You're having to do everything on your system as if you were replacing with a whole new system.’ She had problems!”

But Osenga told KCEN she still has no idea if Alvarez replaced, or even installed, anything for her irrigation system, and may file a lawsuit against him.

Alvarez has been sued before. Through a search on Nexis.com, reporters for KCEN found that the contractor has had multiple judgements levied against him. They confirmed one for $1,316 last year and another for $437 around ten years ago.

The station’s reporters also confirmed that Alvarez had been previously prosecuted for a “theft by check” charge. And although the first invoice he handed to Osenga reportedly states that he is “Insured - bonded registered with the City of Temple, TX,” a city spokesperson told KCEN via email they could not find any insurance information on file for him.

In the story, city spokesman Jonathan Logue is reported to have said “They do not have an insurance certificate on file for Alvarez Professional Services or Ruben Alvarez that they could find, and their records go back to 2010. The only Ruben Alvarez on file with the city applied for a mobile food unit permit for Alvarez Catering which is still valid until Oct. 7, 2019.”

Osenga told KCEN she would not be using the contractor again. “Absolutely not,” she is reported to have said. “And next time I have someone they are going to write it (the invoice) out in detail.”