Writers: Kevin Vaccianna/Molly Fashola
Editor-in-Chief: Cathy Oasheim
Solar X is a construction design and building company found throughout Central Florida. Their website boasts solar powered homes that are energy efficient, sustainable and hurricane proof.
They claim to pride themselves on offering spacious, high-quality homes to families around Florida without the “hefty price tag.”
To anyone looking to buy a home, especially in this time of economic uncertainty, this may sound like a dream come true. In fact, Solar X has attracted many Florida residents using glitzy ads, a fancy website, and social media. Unfortunately, many of those customers have not had a positive Solar X experience.
Palm Bay Live spoke with four residents, three of whom have closed on their homes and one who is still stuck in the process. They have shared their nightmare experiences met while buying their Solar X dream homes.
- Claim: Poor Construction & Questionable Permits
Ashley closed on her Solar X home last year, since then she says there has been non-stop issues with the construction of her house. She has experienced a crack in her homes floor tile that spans the entire length of her house, a constantly leaking and malfunctioning AC unit, and multiple plumbing issues. Additionally, she says the Net Zero solar power claims have proven to be false as her electricity bill is regularly $100 a month. She has reached out to Richard Rivera, who also goes by Richard Hamlet, and his wife, Cathy Rivera, who have presented themselves as the “owners” of the company. Unfortunately, Ashley says the issues have yet to be fixed or even addressed and that the Riveras have stopped returning her calls.
In her frustration, Ashley began doing some added research into Solar X and the work they did on her home.
She claims that when she pulled county construction records, she found evidence of falsified permits and incorrect or non-existent contractor names. As a result, she has been unable to verify that any licensed contractors performed her plumbing and electrical work. When she reached out to the companies listed on the permits, she was told that not only did they never do any work on her home, but that Solar X owed them large sums of money for past completed projects. She was even sent a bill from one company for Solar X’s unpaid liens.
Following this discovery, Ashley reached out to the City of Palm Bay. The City did make Solar X resubmit the permitting paperwork, but no fraud investigation or disciplinary action was taken, and many of the newly listed contractors were still false.
Ashley has since reached out to the Florida State’s Attorney office and she says an investigation is pending.
- Claim: Breach of Contract Threats
Similarly, Melvin, another local resident and veteran, says he saw an advertisement showing a 4-bedroom 2-bath Solar X house on over a quarter acre of land listed for $240,000.
He reached out to Cathy at Solar X and scheduled a time to view a model home. However, when he went to see the model it was nothing like what was advertised. It had fewer bedrooms and a much smaller plot of land. He mentioned this to Cathy who claimed that the ad he saw was posted incorrectly by mistake.
Despite this, Melvin says he ended up liking the model he did see and since he was under a time crunch to move out of his current rental, he decided to move forward. He discussed his move-in time frame with Cathy who assured him his home could be built in time.
Cathy then put Melvin in touch with a banker who could help with obtaining a mortgage loan. Melvin believes this banker is a preferred lender of Solar X.
When it came time for closing and the final home walk-through Melvin was distressed to find that the house was not completed. Additionally, there were cracks in the flooring, plumbing issues, incorrect framing, and several other issues. Melvin decided that he did not want to close and asked that the closing be pushed back until the corrections in the home were made. The mortgage banker and Solar X agreed. A few weeks later, at the second closing date, there were still issues present. At that point, Melvin tried to cancel his VA loan all together.
He says he then received an angry email from Richard Rivera claiming that the construction team, which included Richard’s brother Franklin Rivera, had bent over backwards to give Melvin everything he wanted. Richard also threatened to sue Melvin for over $20,000 under an alleged breach of contract.
After receiving this email Melvin, feeling cornered, contacted Cathy and the two agree to and signed a list of repairs that would be completed if Melvin agreed to move forward with the purchase. A few days later, Melvin closed on the house.
Since then, many of the issues persist, including water leaks, mold, and high electricity and water bills.
Melvin continues to reach out to Solar X to get repairs completed but the response time is slow or non-existent. Melvin says he did his research before engaging with Solar X and saw some negative customer reviews but decided to give the company the benefit of the doubt. He now regrets that decision and says he is in process of seeking legal counsel.
- Claim: Non-Responsiveness & Unpaid Liens
Just like Ashley and Melvin, another local, May, found Solar X on Facebook about a year and half ago. At the time, May lived in an apartment, but in the market for a house with a yard for her grandkids. She liked Solar X’s claims about hurricane protection and steal construction, so she booked an appointment to meet with Cathy.
Prior to the appointment, Cathy sent May several addresses of their model homes in the area for her to take a look at. May says that nearly all of the addresses she was given led to vacant lots. She was able to find and impressive one in Deland, FL that was a huge 5-bedroom home. At that point, she was sold on Solar X.
Like Melvin, Cathy put May in touch with a mortgage broker.
At the pre-closing walkthrough May noticed many issues with her home’s construction. She too she had a crack in the tile that ran the length of the house. She also asked for clarification on how to fix the AC units and demonstrate how the solar panels worked. Cathy informed her that the interworking’s of the home’s systems would be explained, in full detail , after the closing and promised that any building defects would be fixed by then.
Following closing, many issues remained. May found more tile cracks, inoperable faucets, a leaky water heater, and more. May sent several emails and received no response. She eventually contacted the Palm Bay Building Inspector to find out how the house could have possibly passed an inspection. Shortly after, she got a call from Franklin Rivera, the home’s registered contractor. He physically went to her house to review some of her complaints. Despite this promising action, several issues remain in disrepair..
May later received a notice in the mail from an attorney alerting her that Solar X had not paid their workers for any of the septic tanks that they installed in 18 local houses, including hers.
- Claim: Unreturned Deposits
We spoke to Janet Carter, a 50-year-old widow and single parent of five autistic children.
Due to the overwhelming responsibility of her autistic children, Janet received a settlement grant from the Social Security Administration. The rules of the grant required that the money was to be used for the living expenses and benefits of her children. As such, Janet decided the best use of the money would be a home purchase so her children could have a permanent place to live.
Janet stumbled across an advertisement for Solar X homes. The ad claimed that the homes were perfect as low-cost housing since they used well-water and solar power.
Janet eventually signed a contract with Cathy Rivera and put down a deposit. She was told her house would be complete in 10-11 months. After signing the contract, Janet claims that Cathy became less responsive. Frustrated, Janet eventually requested termination of the contract and a refund of her deposit. After some going back and forth over the issue, Solar X agreed to send Janet a termination letter and said that the refund was forthcoming.
It has been several weeks and Janet’s deposit has not been returned. Additionally, Cathy is no longer responding to Janet’s calls and emails.
Janet informed Palm Bay Live that she cries daily because her dream to provide something sustainable and tangible for her kids has become a nightmare. Her current lease ends in August. As the rent will be significantly increased, she says she needs the money back to find alternative housing for her and her children.
Despite feeling defeated, Janet plans to consult an attorney and pursue a legal claim against Solar X and the Riveras as she believes what they are doing amounts to stealing federal money.
These are just some of the interactions Palm Bay Live has had with residents who reached with information about their claims. Supposedly, there are other residents with the same Solar X issues, including two active-duty military service members and elderly citizens, who have had similar experiences with Solar X (also d/b/a as Steel X).
Palm Bay Live reached out to Solar X for comment and spoke to Richard Rivera.
Mr. Rivera states:
“At the root of it all, we’ve successfully built hundreds of homes. Unfortunately, we have had a handful of perpetually unsatisfied customers. We have worked continuously with one customer who we now believe is simply trying to extort money from us. Every issue she has mentioned has been addressed by our warranty department and in fact, 95% of the issues she reported were truly non-issues, but we went the extra mile to make her happy despite the claims. After her issues were fixed, she still wanted money back, but she was not entitled to it. Despite this, Solar X ended up paying the money out of pocket to the title company. This customer has written to the State’s Attorney, Brevard County, her lender, other Solar X customers, and continues to spam all our social media with false claims. Again, all her issues were addressed—we have been investigated and reviewed by the county and city building inspector about her home multiple times and we have never been disciplined. Her issue with Solar X is personal, not professional.”
“Furthermore, Solar X is not a builder or general contractor. We are just the owner of the plans and brand as well as the manufacturer of the steel frame intellectual property. The builder we usually work with is Silver Palm homes. They manage the construction and the building project by subcontracting out various work. Admittedly, Solar X has had issues with Silver Palm as a builder. For example, subcontractors have come to us due to non-payment by Silver Palm. We work hard to resolve those issues and they should have no effect on our customers.”
“We also acknowledge the tile cracking issues. It is common in Florida for tile or flooring to crack or shift, as the home settles, especially during the first year. Because of this, we budget for tile fixes during the first year. We also use high quality ceramic tile, suitable for walls or flooring and install a tile membrane to minimize or prevent extensive cracking. Settling is unavoidable in many Florida homes. Anyone with a complaint about construction is directed to email our warranty department. All they need to do is write an email detailing the problem and we will send someone out to look at it. Our usually quick response time to these requests are delayed due to COVID, and we are getting back on track.
“In the event that the builder does not make the requested repairs on time, we provide customers with an extended warranty.”
“Deposit refunds are assessed on a case-by-case basis. If the customer is eligible for a refund, we will provide it within a few weeks.”
“Solar X does everything we can to police the general contractors that work with our brand, and we make sure we protect the customer as much as we can.”