How I Almost Got Ripped Off

Here’s a little background.  I live in a two story house in a city with really hot and humid weather.  If you live in a two story house with really hot and humid weather, the builder is very likely to install two central air conditioning units – one for each floor with separate thermostats.  I say this because I know for a fact that my friends north of here have been really confused by the double-a/c thing.  It’s nothing special – it’s standard in this area.

If you ask a/c guys, they will say you need to get your units checked annually to keep them in good working order.  In the spring, we usually get loads of fliers for a/c companies willing to come out and check your units out for $59.99 apiece or something similar.  Whether this is really necessary, well I don’t really know.  We have it done every other year or so, just to be safe.

I have a long to-do list which, having kids, operates in triage fashion – blood and vomit comes first while a/c checks are somewhere near the bottom.   In late January, when we began running the a/c regularly (I told you it was hot and humid here!) Mr. Lawyer started harassing me about getting that check up done.  And I put it off for a few weeks – the a/c was working fine, after all.  In Late February, he brought it up again, in a….shall we say….grumpier fashion? So I figured I’d better get on the ball.

Fortuitously, the next morning a company called Houston Admiral happened to call while I was still in bed – and very groggy.  They said they would come out that week for $75 and do the check.  We are on the no call list and while we occasionally do receive calls from companies who are violating the no-call provisions, usually companies that call are ones that we have done business with in the past.

So I asked, “Have we used you guys before?”  The response was vague, but implied that yes, we had likely used them before.  And having just woken up, I accepted that as reasonable, especially since we have used a number of different a/c companies in the past, both for preventative and repair work.

It turns out that this company uses several different names, but I didn’t know that at the time.

Houston Admiral
Accutron Heating & A/C
Admiral A/C Experts
Admiral Air Conditioning & Heating
Admiral Services
Admiral/Accutron Air Conditioning
KJC Business Ventures, L.P.

The guy came out a day or two later – the name on the invoice is Shaun J.  He seemed nice enough – very polite.  He had a look at the outside units and the attic stuff and then came to me with a serious look – the verdict was grim.

He stated that essentially the upstairs unit was poised to meltdown at any minute.  It might last a week or a month, but it would definitely not make it through the summer.  Definitely not.  It was all but a goner and to avoid the hassle of being without a/c in 100 degree heat, we needed to replace it now.  Right now.

Horrified, I asked what the total would be.  $10k before tax.  $9898.50 to be precise.  Woah, Nelly!  Who has that kind of cash laying around?  He cheerfully handed me information from their financing company.  I told him I would give them a call after talking it over with Mr. Lawyer.

And then I did some research, because something seemed…off.  The guy was very nice.  Very polite.  Said hi to my kiddo.  But it still didn’t feel right.

And the initial research proved ugly.  The BBB rated the company F for failure to respond to 50 complaints filed against them.  Holeeee smokes!

BBB processed a total of 56 complaint(s) about this business in the last 36 months, our standard reporting period. Of the total 56 complaint(s) closed in the last 36 months, 10 were closed in the last 12 months.

These complaints concerned:

2 regarding Advertising Issues

6 regarding Billing or Collection Issues

3 regarding Contract Disputes

1 regarding Customer Services Issues

4 regarding Refund Or Exchange Issues

13 regarding Repair Issues

12 regarding Selling Practices

15 regarding Service Issues

I decided that a second opinion was in order – if the unit was going to need replacing, I wanted it replaced by a company I felt confident in and one that would honor their warranty, should warranty work be necessary.

We noticed the lights dimming the next evening – like a poltergeist effect.  Wow – that was odd.  Our own personal brownout.  I wonder what caused that, I said at the time.  Mr. Lawyer was concerned too and asked if anything was running.  It wasn’t – we were both watching TV, so it wasn’t like I was vacuuming while power washing or anything.  It happened again as I was going past the bedroom window – and then I heard it….the sad, sad, sound of an a/c unit working far too hard…clearly straining.  Just like the guy had said would happen.  Damn – he was right.

And then the thought came to mind that I felt guilty for even thinking – is it possible he had actually caused this rather than simply diagnosed it?  Surely not.   I mean, they are clearly terrible businessmen, but poor customer service doesn’t mean completely corrupt.

We turned off the upstairs unit immediately.

The Second Opinion was here today.  A nice guy that was referred by a friend who had known the brothers that run the company growing up.  The second he heard that we had used Houston Admiral, he knew something was up and told me tales of little old ladies getting ripped off and other blatant misconduct.  Yikes.

He had a look at the a/c and immediately saw what the problem was.  The wires on the outside unit had been swapped causing the unit to draw more power than it needed – and yes, had we kept the unit on, he said, it would have caused very serious damage.  Thankfully we had the sense to turn it off immediately.  He did another small repair that had nothing to do with the current malfunction and that was that.  In fact, it is humming along perfectly right now.  Total cost?  $250.

I’ve since found copious serious-sounding complaints like this and these and these on many sites including being in the Angieslist “penalty box.”  Some, but undoubtedly only a tiny fraction of the total complaints that exist, lead to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation addressing several dozen customer issues in one day:

Date: 11/5/2010

Conley, John
Company: Houston Admiral
Complaint #ACR2008001291C
License #TACLA00014868E
County: Travis
Zip Code: 78701

Respondent is assessed an administrative penalty in the amount of $20,000 and Respondent’s license is suspended for one year.

Respondent failed to provide proper installation and service, and assure the mechanical integrity of all work and installations; Respondent misrepresented the need for services, services to be provided, or services that had been provided; Respondent made a fraudulent promise or false statement to influence, persuade, or induce an individual or a company to contract for services; Respondent failed to provide proper installation, service, or mechanical integrity by failing to install a P-trap on an emergency drain line while replacing an evaporator coil.

Of course you would never know that if you looked up the information listed on their website – the license number they have listed on their own website (License: TACLA041868E)  has transposed digits so if one did search, no complaints will come up.  Intentional?  Maybe – maybe not.  But by my own experience, it appears that they are up to their old tricks again.  More likely, they never stopped.

The folks that run the company seem to have plenty of legal problems.  A very quick search for owner and business names in  district court cases from this county alone pops up in a number of foreclosures, breach of contract cases, several delinquent property tax cases, and yes at least one for shoddy/fraudulent repairs.  Honestly, though, they work under so many different names that on this quick search, I’m sure I may well have missed others.  There are possibly even some criminal convictions – not necessarily related to this business, but since I don’t have the primary actors birthdates right now, I cannot positively confirm this information.

Further, the company name printed on the invoice I have says that Houston Admiral is a “DBA” or assumed name of Rosehill LLC.  According to the Texas Comptroller, Rosehill is not in good standing, meaning, they did not pay their franchise taxes, which is a basic for owning an incorporated business in Texas. Why is this important?

A corporation in Texas must be able to prove that it has paid all franchise taxes owed to the state in order to receive certain operating privileges from the state. A corporation seeking to be licensed by a state agency is required to have paid all franchise taxes owed to the state, and no contract can be awarded by a state agency if franchise taxes are owed.

It also demonstrates a fundamental lack of professional responsibility, which is definitely not something I want to see in someone I have working on my home.  I’d be interested in seeing if they have any liability insurance or they just hope for the best.

SPRING, TX 77379-5427
Registered Agent: W. C. ROBERTS JR
DALLAS, TX 75244
Registered Agent Resignation Date:
State of Formation: TX
File Number: 0801013714
SOS Registration Date: August 6, 2008
Taxpayer Number: 32037681072

I’ve provided my experience and a little more information on this company, hopefully it will save someone’s bank account and sanity down the road.  If you have had experiences, good or otherwise, with this company, please feel free to comment below.

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