NORFOLK -- Ruth Estes, Karen Joseph and Anthony Collins all have something in common. They bought houses from Kenny Evans, the owner of Smarthouse Incorporated of Chesapeake. Now, all three say they're stuck with homes that never had final inspections done and homes that have numerous construction problems.
"This is a lot of money to invest, especially when you were told that this property was up to code," says Estes who bought her house in Chesapeake from Evans in 2009 for $155,000. City records show Evans bought it for $40,000.
Joseph bought her house in Norfolk's Park Place neighborhood for $199,000 in 2010. She says once she moved in, she discovered problems from incomplete duct work to plumbing issues.
"Stuff wasn't done," explains Joseph.
Anthony Collins, who owns a house in Norfolk's Huntersville neighborhood, says his home on Washington Avenue also has heating problems. He bought it from Evans in 2010 for $165,000 after Evans bought it for just $18,000 months earlier. Collins says he's had to make a lot of repairs in the home since he's moved in.
"When I moved in I didn't have any heat, period. Come to find out, none of the duct work underneath the house was done at all," says Collins.
After the 13 News Troubleshooters notified the city of Norfolk's codes department, city inspectors inspected Joseph's and Collins' homes and found numerous code violations.
Norfolk's Building Official, Lynn Underwood says, referring to Evans, "The previous owner had a lot of work done,some renovation and repair work done that did not have the benefit of a building permit or any kind of permit or any inspections. It also appears the work that he did was done in some ways by unlicensed contractors. There was a lot of work done that was deficient in its quality, deficient in its code requirements. We found several code violations."
Because of the extent of the problems, Underwood was able to get Evans to agree to fix the issues even though he is no longer legally obligated to do so, because the homes are not his property. So far, new permits to do the work have been pulled. Collins and Joseph only hope that the fixes will be done. Evans promises it will and says his problem was trusting the wrong contractors whom he thought were doing the work properly.
"I think the problem was this..it isn't so much the work that I've done. I called on people who knew how to do certain things and what I found out was there were certain people who didn't know how to do certain things, and I wasn't aware of it until it was a little too late. But this was never a case of abandonment," says Evans.
He says he was unaware that final inspections were not getting done. When questioned about the Estes home in Chesapeake, Evans claimed the city signed off on the work. But city code officials tell a different story.
"They never did complete the inspection process on all the work they were doing before they sold the home to the current owner," explains Code Compliance Manager, Bob Smalley.
Meanwhile, Estes who says she's spent about $85,000 of her own money to repair her house is considering taking legal action.
Estes won't be the first person to take legal action against Evans. In 2005, after agreeing to help Theresa Holloway rehab her Portsmouth home, Holloway ended up filing a complaint with the state Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation or DPOR. She says she gave Evans more than $150,000 but the work wasn't getting done.
"There were people here in the beginning but after awhile, I would only see one or two people here and he would say we're going to be done soon," said Holloway.
DPOR's investigation prompted charges to be filed in Portsmouth General District Court and Evans was convicted of operating without a contractor's license and ordered to pay Holloway $30,000 in restitution in 2006. Then, in 2008, Holloway sued Evans for damages and an agreement was reached for him to pay $31,200. Holloway says, Evans stopped paying last December. He admits he no longer had the money but promises he'll eventually pay.
A WARNING FOR WOULD-BE HOMEBUYERS AND PEOPLE HIRING CONTRACTORS
Norfolk's Building Official, Lynn Underwood says the Evans case underscores the need for would-be homebuyers to do their homework before buying a house. He says if you want to hire a contractor to do rehab work, start by checking with DPOR (www.dpor.virginia.gov) to see if the contractor is licensed.
"They need to talk to them about their credentials. Make sure they are a licensed contractor.
Ask the contractor for references and look at their work," suggests Underwood. He adds would-be homebuyers should get a home inspection before making a purchase. Also, permits and inspection records are public records.
DPOR spokesperson, Mary Broz-Vaughn says DPOR regulates licensed contractors but recommends that people who have problems with unlicensed contractors still file a complaint with the department. In some cases, DPOR can refer the complaint to local authorities who can then pursue charges. That's what happened in the Holloway case.
"They sent an investigator down here and investigated everything," says Holloway.