HOUSTON - Flood victims who paid a troubled elevation company to raise their homes are out hundreds of thousands of dollars.
As Channel 2 Investigates first revealed, Titan Foundations and Elevation, in the midst of financial ruin, never started work on some homes, while ceasing to complete others.
Following weeks of inquiries and an official notice from the city of Houston, the owner of Titan Foundations, Bobby Fischer, died.
Fischer's death sent a wave of panic throughout a group of roughly 20 homeowners, who had already expressed angst over the sudden shuttering of Titan. Now Channel 2 Investigates has learned there's a web of finger-pointing over who should pay Titan's tab.
"We thought by now we'd actually be moving back into the house right about now," Aaron Rouse, whose home in southwest Houston sits one street away from Brays Bayou, said.
Rouse's home flooded three times: Memorial Day 2015, Tax Day 2016 and Hurricane Harvey last year. Brays Bayou overflowed during Harvey, sending over 5 feet of water into Rouse's home.
"It would have been up to my nose," Rouse said, gesturing to his nose on his 6-foot-plus frame.
Rouse, his wife and their three children have been out of the home since Harvey.
While kitchen repairs are near completion with sheetrock covering most walls, by now Rouse expected he and his family would be home and with the house elevated some 10 feet. Instead, an elevation project remains stuck at the starting line. Rouse signed a contract last year.
"We just want to get lifted and hopefully, would like to get the money back," Rouse said.
That appears easier said than done.
Channel 2 Investigates was first to tell you about the problem last month when it became apparent the company hired to elevate Rouse's home, Titan Foundations and Repairs, had been shuttered without notice.
Six of the homes Titan was hired to elevate were funded through a federal grant, administered by the city of Houston. The grant is funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"This was worse than the actual being flooded, itself," Dr. Robert Raphael said.
Both Raphael and Rouse hired Titan last December after receiving the grant from the city of Houston.
Six homeowners awarded the grant hired Titan, according to the city. Titan was one of a few companies the city vetted and approved to do the job, which for most didn't even get off the ground.
"The house was going to be livable in August," Rouse said.
He and Raphael said their agreement with Titan included up-front out-of-pocket payments for extras the grant did not cover.
Rouse paid Titan $45,000 to begin the 10-foot lift on his home.
Raphael paid Titan nearly $40,000.
They said Titan told them the money was needed to cover extra tasks not funded by the public grant.
Other homeowners tell a similar story.
"The only service we know happened after investigating ourselves is that a survey did occur," James Long said.
Long and his wife, Julia, hired Titan to elevate their home in Meyerland in May.
The Longs were not awarded a grant and had to get financing to foot the bill themselves. They paid Titan $40,000 up front to start their elevation.
But after ground sat unbroken and rumors began to swirl about Titan and Fischer walking away from projects, the Longs grew suspicious. They said they questioned Fischer about the matter.
Fischer, they said, tried to assure them.
"He kept telling me that he was working on trying to make everybody whole, make everything good, not to worry," Long said.
The Longs suspected Titan went out of business by late July. It was true: Titan's money woes had worsened.
Titan skipped out on its office lease in Upper Kirby, and subcontractors to whom Titan owned money levied liens against property owners.
In fact, one lien was filed against Raphael. He didn't know about it until Channel 2 Investigates notified him.
Fischer's death came in the midst of a 30-day notice issued by the city of Houston for Titan to complete homes covered by the grant or give up the contract.
In that letter, the city also gives notice to another company called Absolute Concrete.
Bid proposals Titan submitted for other federal grants obtained by Channel 2 Investigates include Absolute as a business partner, listing John Heaner, owner of Absolute Concrete, also as co-owner of Titan.
KPRC2 contacted Heaner by phone. He wouldn't agree to an on-camera interview but said he does not own Titan. He said he served as Fischer's business partner and was caught up in the same tumult as homeowners.
He's not listed on Titan's LLC filed with the state.
However, Channel 2 Investigates found other evidence indicating Titan and Absolute were working together.
James Long said he met with Heaner at his home. He said Heaner met him for a consultation before he decided to broker a deal with the company.
"How did he present himself to you?" KPRC2 reporter Brandon Walker asked.
"John presented himself as an owner. He wanted to close that day," James Long said.
Heaner also told us he didn't handle money matters for Fischer and that so-called extras for which grant recipients had to pay out-of-pocket were between the homeowner and Titan, not Absolute.
Heaner said he's only responsible for two grant homes, which didn't include extra requests not included in the grant. He also said he wasn't on the contracts for the elevation jobs Titan was hired to complete outside of the grant.
But homeowners contend Heaner endorsed checks they addressed to Titan. They provided Channel 2 Investigates with copies.
While the city of Houston said it's trying to get Titan to right its wrongs, it only has say over contracts it approved through the grant.
Those outside of the grant likely face a long legal road ahead, a legal analyst said.
"This is spilled milk that I think is a very painful experience for homeowners," attorney Dana Karni said.
Karni, who specializes in consumer rights, does not represent any of the homeowners with claims against Titan, but said the death of Fischer makes an already complicated matter worse.
Her advice for homeowners: "In my experience, the easiest route may be for these consumers to complain to one of the authorities. I might suggest the Texas attorney general's office."
The wait continues, which for homeowners like Aaron Rouse means hoping the city approves a new contractor for grant recipients.
The 30-day notice of default ends on Sept. 2.
"We want to get our money back and get lifted, and we'll see if that actually happens," Rouse said.
Both the Houston Police Department and the Harris County district attorney's office are investigating allegations against Titan.
The district attorney's office won't comment on its investigation, but Channel 2 Investigates has confirmed the office will continue to look into Titan, even after Fischer's death.
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