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Helen and Painter

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WSVN -- Helen Zalis, 95 Years Old: "I am 95. I was born in 1917. I have been here a long time, folks!"

When you sit down to talk to Helen Zalis, you quickly realize, it's more fun to listen.

Helen Zalis, 95 Years Old: "I could tell you so many stories."

Helen is a true Southern gal, remembering her first date many years ago with her future husband.

Helen Zalis, 95 Years Old: "And he carried me off of the porch, and I fell in love with him. He is my hero."

When you are born in 1917, you lived in the so-called "golden days" your great-grandparents told you about, and you remember the way things used to be.

Helen Zalis, 95 Years Old: "There was a right and a wrong, and you did what you knew was right or you were answering to your heart and to a higher authority."

And today, Helen certainly feels she is being wronged.

Helen Zalis, 95 Years Old: "There were no prices in. I was just showing him what had to be done."

A few months ago, a painter offered to paint Helen's house. He drew up a contract. She wouldn't sign it.

Helen Zalis, 95 Years Old: "He signed it. I did not. I said, 'I can't sign this until you put on here what you are supposed to put on here.'"

Helen says the painter gave her two more contracts. She never signed a single one, but she let him start working.

Helen Zalis, 95 Years Old: "I made a mistake by letting him go ahead without me signing the contract. I should know better at my age."

Turns out, the painter never got a permit from the Town of Bay Harbor. He kept working: power washing her house, caulking and painting.

Helen knows when he was there, because she keeps a calendar to write down what happens each day.

Helen Zalis, 95 Years Old: "That's when I gave him the first $500."

But Helen says he was not doing a good job.

Helen Zalis, 95 Years Old: "Now, he paints this and drips all over my plants."

Paint droppings do speckle her yard, but Helen says the final straw: The painter's helper called her to warn her that his boss was not doing a good job.

By this time, Helen had paid $5,000 and decided to let the painter go.

Helen Zalis, 95 Years Old: "I had told him to leave. I didn't want him here anymore. He was ruining my house."

Helen says the painter told her he was almost finished and he wanted to be paid in full.

Helen Zalis, 95 Years Old: "And he wants another $4,000. I had already paid him $5,000. Big mistake."

When she said "No," he called the police. The Bay Harbor Town Manager came out, looked at the work, and gave Helen his opinion.

Helen Zalis, 95 Years Old: "He said, 'Number One: You were overcharged. Number Two: This job was never finished. And what he did is very, very bad. Very bad.'"

Helen then went and bought paint, and her handyman finished painting the house.

Helen Zalis, 95 Years Old: "And Charlie did this on top."

Then the painter hired a lawyer and is suing Helen for $4,500. He has placed a lien on her home for the last 30 years.

Helen Zalis, 95 Years Old: "He thought he had a nice old lady here that he could take advantage of."

And Helen says she won't be frightened into paying by a lawsuit. She can afford to pay the $4,500, but it's the principle.

Helen Zalis, 95 Years Old: "I can just hear my mama, my Southern mama saying, 'There is a principle involved here, child. You just make sure you do the right thing.' And by golly I am going to do the right thing."

Well Howard, you hire someone to do work at your house and are not satisfied with the work. Do you have to pay them?

Howard Finkelstein, 7News Legal Expert: "From the outset, it's hard to give a definitive answer. Unless both sides settle, you have to let a judge decide, and because there was no contract, what the court will do is called 'quantum meruit.' In other words, the painter will only get paid for the services he provided, meaning he may get the money he wants or the judge may conclude he owes Helen money."

I first met with the painter and his attorney. The painter said he only had three hours of work left when Helen fired him; that he didn't pull a permit because she told him not to; that he is going to court because he earned the money.

I then spoke to the painter's assistant, who told me there were a lot of things wrong with the job they did, and his former boss is wrong about wanting more money from Helen.

Finally, the town manager signed an affidavit, in which he said the work was "shoddy," that the job was not "complete," "that entire sides of the home remained to be painted."

Helen Zalis, 95 Years Old: "If you'll help me get this fixed, I am going to give that money to charity."

Helen says if she wins in court, she will give money the painter wants to charity.

And before I left, I had one more question for Helen: "How can you be so full of energy and entertaining at 95?"

Helen Zalis, 95 Years Old: "Well, because I believe you are what you eat, and I picked the right parents who gave me good genes."

Patrick Fraser: "Talk to someone who has been around since 1917 and it's fascinating. Helen is amazing, and we will be in court when she comes face-to-face with the painter."

Someone painting a picture of you that's not pretty? Ready to brush them away? Contact us. We don't have the lifelong experiences of Helen, but then she is 95. Who does?

CONTACT HELP ME HOWARD:

EMAIL: helpmehoward@wsvn.com (Please include your contact phone number when emailing)

REPORTER: Patrick Fraser at pfraser@wsvn.com

MIAMI-DADE: 305-953-WSVN

BROWARD: 954-761-WSVN

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