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Dispute over renovation explodes on Facebook. Then, homeowners sue Bluffton contractor

When Kelsey Nehila and Logan Bertram decided to renovate the Carolina room on their Ridgeland home, they got bids from contractors and checked Facebook for reviews.

The five-star reviews they found online, however, didn’t give them a complete picture.

On Sept. 13, they filed a lawsuit alleging that Michael Britz of Mera Custom Remodeling took a $3,000 deposit in May, did a portion of the demolition in their room and then failed to complete the work.

“He did enough to render it unusable,” Nehila said.

Photos provided by Bertram show the room in disarray, with piles of paneling torn down during demolition and exposed insulation on the walls and ceiling.

“We are having to show our home to renters, and this room is visible from the front door,” Nehila said. “It’s kind of a train wreck.”

Britz, in a phone call Sept. 13, said he wished the two sides could find a compromise that didn’t involve going to court. He said he would be the first to admit that he’s not perfect.

“I’ve done some very wonderful things, ... and I’ve had some issues,” he said. “I’ve had nothing I’ve tried to hide in this process.”

Nehila posted about her experience with Britz on Facebook, drawing dozens of responses, including ones from people who said they had similar stories to tell.

One of those commenters was Shelly Walker of Bluffton. She hired Britz to repair water damage to her door and floors in April but ended up filing her own lawsuit in July alleging the contractor took her deposit and didn’t do the work.

The Facebook post about her experience had more than 250 comments.

“Everything on his Facebook page at the time was all five-star, generous man, helped these people,” Walker said.

Her experience was the opposite, she said.

“It’s been a nightmare,” Walker said. “There’s still water damage in my house.”

A judge ruled in Walker’s favor on Sept. 11, determining that Britz owes her $3,230. Walker doesn’t think she’ll ever get that money, though.

“I have nothing to say to him, nothing at all,” she said of Britz. “I lost the money, and I’m just going to take the hit.”

Another lawsuit against Britz was filed July 31 by Beaufort veterinarian Paul Lauricella.

Lauricella, the executor of his late father’s estate, hired Britz to do some work on the family’s 25-year-old home. He said Britz had been recommended by someone trustworthy.

“The work that was done was horrible, and then a lot of stuff just wasn’t done,” Lauricella said.

He said he paid Britz around $4,000 as a deposit and refused to pay him more.

Instead, he filed a lawsuit asking for $1,500 of his deposit money back.

“He did do some of the work,” Lauricella said.

Beaufort County court documents show two additional judgments and one settlement related to Britz or his company since late 2017. Four other lawsuits were dismissed or went through mediation. That’s a total of 10 civil cases in less than two years.

Britz said he’s willing to discuss settlement options with any of his clients who are unhappy about his work.

He said, in Nehila and Bertram’s case, he thinks he should be paid for the work he did.

“To say that no work was performed or the money was stolen is utterly false,” Britz said. “We can dispute ... what she (Nehila) thinks the value of the work is.”

He said he would not consider handing over the deposit collected from Nehila and Bertram without a face-to-face conversation and a written agreement.

“I’m not trying to ask for any additional money, and I’m not saying she’s not deserving of a refund. What’s that number? And that’s where I’m stuck. When you are trying to settle with someone, there needs to be some level of flexibility.”

Britz said he thinks he’s been unfairly targeted on social media and has received threats after Nehila’s Facebook post.

He said he let his South Carolina contractor’s license lapse on June 30 and plans to close his business and “return to the regular old W-2 workforce.”

“I’ll have some amends I need to make, and that’s going to be my cross to bear, but I’m not a thief.”

Bertram said work on their Carolina room that Britz didn’t finish in four months will be done in about a week by a new contractor. The couple planned to put their home on the rental market and move to Austin, Texas, at the end of September. That move has been delayed while another contractor completes the renovations.

“We hired them last week, and now the drywall is hung,” Bertram said on Wednesday. “Tomorrow, they’ll be ready to paint.”

Lisa Wilson is a reporter for The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette. The 25-year newsroom veteran has worked for papers in Louisiana and Mississippi and is happy to call the Lowcountry home.
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