Hiring a contractor: What to do before the work gets started

For the second time, Contact 6 is alerted to a local pool contractor leaving a muddy mess in its customer’s backyard.

After a frustrating year, Don Lemke in Oconomowoc finally has the backyard pool his wife envisioned. Don and Jenny Lemke discussed every detail before she died of cancer in January 2019.

“She was pushing for years to get a pool,” said Lemke. “After we were able to save up enough money to get the ball rolling, she had passed away.”

Five months after Jenny Lemke’s passing, Don hired a contractor to install the pool. But, for the better part of a year, the only water pooling in his backyard was inside a muddy hole.

“Every time it rained, I was out there pumping the water,” said Lemke.

The company that dug the hole is Zimmers Landscaping. Lemke’s story sounded familiar to Contact 6. 

Last fall, Contact 6 hand-delivered a refund from Zimmers to Jennie Draper, after the company failed to finish her pool in Muskego.

“It was just this giant puddle of mud in the backyard and we couldn't use the backyard,” Draper told Contact 6.

By the time Lemke watched the Contact 6 report, Zimmers had already dug the hole in his backyard.

Lemke decided to give the company another chance and signed an updated contract at a discounted price. The contract promised a full refund if the work wasn’t finished. 

Months later, owner John Zimmer told Lemke his company could not finish the job. Zimmer provided a partial refund of $4,000, but Lemke is still owed $4,750.

Last year, Zimmer told us that extremely wet weather and unreliable workers had delayed his projects. This year, he points to a new challenge.

“The COVID thing hit and it was just so uncertain like employees didn't come to work, they were too scared,” said Zimmer.

Zimmer says over the last year, he’s downsized his business, and admits to making mistakes with Lemke and Draper.

“The communication was just, it was bad,” said Zimmer.

Zimmer says he no longer communicates with customers himself, and now gives that responsibility to his project leads. He says he’s not doing pool construction anymore, focusing instead, on his landscaping business. As for Lemke’s refund, Zimmer blames an accounting error.

“Me, standing in his position, I would be frustrated, too,” said Zimmer.

Lemke’s experience with Zimmers Landscaping proves the importance of having a clear, detailed contract. Lemke was able to file a small claims case for his refund in Jefferson County and get a judgment in his favor.

Lemke eventually hired another contractor to finish his pool project. More than a year after the project started, his backyard is finally a reflection of his late wife’s plans for her family.

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“It's gonna be something that we can use for many, many years,” said Lemke.

Zimmer told Contact 6 weeks ago that his accountant was mailing Lemke’s refund. The check still hasn’t arrived and Lemke says he has not heard from Zimmer.

Zimmer says he was unaware of Lemke’s small claims case until we informed him, but he does not dispute Don’s claims.