This Texas woman is fighting for her home, and all she wanted was to replace her roof

In the annals of Texas roofing stories, the ongoing saga of Margie Cooley, 83, of Richardson, illustrates the corrosive power of a regulatory-free environment.

In Texas, roofers, home builders and remodelers are not licensed, registered or certified with the state. Aside from expensive court proceedings and small claims court, consumers have next to no protections and in most cases no one to turn to for help.

In Cooley’s case, she withheld final payment on her roof job until Bold Roofing finished a proper cleanup, which she claims the company refused to do. Instead, Bold lived up to its name.

Cooley says owner Robert Bold came to her house with a lawyer and demanded the $16,000 payment. When she showed him the tire ruts she wanted him to fix along with two broken gates, Bold declined, she said.

In turn, she declined to make the payment, holding the insurance check in a savings account until Bold makes the repairs. It is, she told me, her only leverage.

Through court procedures, Cooley did lose title to her house.

Bold declined to talk to me. His lawyer, Stephen Niermann of Carrollton, told me, “The work was done, but Bold Roofing was never paid. Insurance payments were paid.” That money belongs to Bold, he said, a company in business for 40 years.

Court documents help tell this story. Bold sued Cooley. Then Cooley sued Bold. The cases are far from being decided.

‘We’ll cover your deductible’

For Cooley, certain steps and missed steps had to fall into place that cost her ownership – at least on paper – of her house of 38 years. After she lost title, the house was flipped to four investors in two years’ time.

First, know Cooley is an accountant by trade who likes to keep track, and she knew a crucial fact about the roofing industry. It’s now against state law for a roofer (or a car repair shop) to offer to pay a consumer’s deductible.

Her son found the information on the Texas Attorney General’s website. The law is not popular because it costs consumers more and withholds selling points by roofers. (“We’ll cover your deductible,”).

Cooley says that when she learned this, she returned the deductible money to Bold. She says she also called the company and canceled their contract.

But good luck with a verbal dismissal by phone to cancel a contract. That doesn’t always work in the roofing industry. Cooley said she returned home one day to find Bold’s squad working atop her roof anyway.

In court papers, Bold and his attorney Niermann insist the roof job was completed. They asked a judge to award $16,000 plus lawyer fees.

When Cooley didn’t show up for the hearing, she lost on what’s called a default judgement. That gave Bold his victory and allowed his lawyer to place a lien on the property. Eventually, Bold Roofing demanded the money from Cooley or threatened foreclosure.

Meanwhile, Cooley, says, she wasn’t receiving notices of court hearings or judgments. Later, to prove her point, she did produce evidence of a key notice mailed to her with an incorrect ZIP code.

The default judgment against her was tossed out by a court because legal papers were not properly served.

She testified under oath that she didn’t get notice that her property was listed for foreclosure at a sheriff’s sale, where the house – appraised with a market value of $280,000 – sold to investor Ken Harter of Addison for $56,000, court records show.

That began a series of ownership switches. Each brought along door knockers who tried to evict her.

Harter transferred title to a company he owned. When he tried to evict her, she got a lawyer and a temporary restraining order requiring a freeze of ownership.

Harter told me, “I waited” but eventually he sold the house “for what I have in it” to another investor. Then another company bought it from that investor.

Harter said of Cooley, who sued him, “She’s not the innocent little old lady she would portray herself to be.”

The newest title holder, listed on the appraisal district’s website, is TMC Dream Ventures, which paid $276,000 for the house in April, court records show.

Lawyers for Bold Roofing, defending itself against Cooley’s lawsuit, will likely argue that Cooley did receive court notices but ignored them. They say in court papers that the necessary repairs were made.

Part of Cooley’s strategy could be what I call the “peephole defense.” She says she doesn’t open the door for strangers because she has a peephole. Since this all began in 2020, she’s peeped at various people representing companies trying to evict her. She doesn’t let them in, she says.

Her lawyer, Dan Chern of Dallas, says he believes he can keep her in the house.

As of now, she’s still there.

In a better world, Cooley wouldn’t need lawyers and lawsuits. In that world, she could challenge the license of a roofer and have outside regulators investigate and then broker a solution. The lack of this protection for homeowners is one of Texas’ biggest failings.

Roof damaged in the storm? Here are Watchdog’s tips to hire an honest roofer

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The Dallas Morning News Watchdog column is the 2019 winner of the top prize for column writing from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. The contest judge called his winning entries “models of suspenseful storytelling and public service.”

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