Home repair hell: Contractor sues LLC tied to Travelzoo CEO

Richard Holz Inc. alleges Holger Bartel created toxic environment and owes hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid work on Hollywood Hills property

1407 Tanager Way (Zillow)
1407 Tanager Way (Zillow)

The website Travelzoo scours the internet to offer users instant, no-hassle deals on flights, vacations and accomodations. But when it came to a multimillion-dollar renovation to his home in the Hollywood Hills, company CEO Holger Bartel is being accused of something akin to the nightmare tourist.

The general contractor on the project is now suing an LLC that Bartel controls, saying the executive’s numerous design changes and failure to make other big decisions led to long delays, and has resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid work.

Richard Holz Inc. filed the suit in late July in Los Angeles County Superior Court, also charging the owner created a toxic and abusive work environment.

Bartel bought the 3,300-square-foot home at 1407 Tanager Way in 2012, with Norbert Martinho. The pair paid $9.8 million for the three-bedroom, three and a half bathroom property, according to Property Shark. They closed on the deal through PBM Property LLC, which the lawsuit names as the sole defendant, though it identifies Holger and Martinho as non-parties who control PBM. The home’s estimated value is now between $12 million and $16 million, several listings websites show.

According to the lawsuit, Bartel and Martinho bought the 1972-designed property with the intention of tearing it down and rebuilding. At some point they settled on overhauling the home, and had already gone through one general contractor when they contacted Westwood-based RHI in 2015. The company, which specializes in luxury renovations, took over the custom project in early 2016.

“As RHI would quickly learn the hard way,” the suit alleges, the original contractor quit because of “the sheer difficulty of dealing with” Bartel and Martinho.

Responding to a reporter’s questions about the lawsuit, Bartel said he had no knowledge of it. In an email, he said he was “just puzzled. There must be errors somewhere as I have no idea what this is about,” he wrote. After reading the suit, Bartel called the allegations “absurd.” He did not respond to a followup email.

He also owns two Manhattan properties, according to records. In 2017, he cut the price on his Tribeca penthouse at 53 Leonard Street from $18 million to $13.5 million. He had purchased the 3,200-square-foot unit for $5.8 million in 2010.

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RHI initially estimated the Bird Streets project would cost $11.8 million for what would be 16 months of work, according to the suit. But the owners made numerous design changes while failing to make other big decisions or provide the contractor with necessary plans, the complaint alleges.

They also “suspended, delayed and interrupted portions of the work,” RHI alleges. That pushed the project back more than three and a half years, ballooning its cost to over $16 million, according to the suit. RHI also alleges that Bartel and Martinho failed to make timely payments, and now owes the company more than $525,000.

And the work is far from done. Another year or so of construction is required at a cost of more than $4 million, the suit claims.

The lawsuit also claims the work environment grew toxic, and that Bartel and Martinho harassed and verbally abused RHI’s personnel and subcontractors. It also charged the pair with making “misogynistic comments, anti-Semitic comments, and other racist and bigoted comments.”

RHI CFO Chris Badurek declined to comment.

The suit alleges that other contractors on the project quit, including the interior designer, mechanical engineer and three separate owner’s representatives. It did not identify those people by name.

In late June, RHI terminated the project contract, alleging that Bartel’s and Martinho’s conduct amounted to various legal violations.

New York-based Travelzoo, part of an early generation of online travel sites, was founded in 1998 by Bartel’s brother Ralph. Holger Bartel came on as executive vice president a short time later, and has served in his current role as chief executive since late 2015.