Homeowner's persistence yields results
A Baltimore resident contacted me months ago to explain her particular housing woe, and she's kept me updated as her story progressed. I thought Keisha's experience (and how she handled it) would help others, so she kindly agreed to share with all of you.
She purchased a rowhome on Baltimore's west side in spring 2009 after relocating back to the state. After signing the contract, she used a variety of professionals recommended by her real estate agent, from the title company to the home inspector. "That was a big mistake on my part," she says now.
Here's her story in her words:
In June of 2009 as the summer heat started rising, I went to use my central air only to find it did not work. I notified the builder that rehabbed the home and within a week they sent an HVAC contractor. It was then I was told the air condensing units were stolen from my roof.
I did what most would do: I notified the police, then the insurance company. Days later the insurance company came to the property only to deny my claim because they saw no evidence that air condensers had ever been installed on my property.
Needless to say, I thought, "This can't be true, I had a home inspection. Furthermore, Baltimore City code enforcement inspectors were just here in mid-May -- surely they would have noticed if I had no air conditioning condensers."
Her first call for help was to her real estate agent, "the one I hired to protect my interests in the closing."
His response was, "If you read your home inspection report, it states that the condensers appeared to be on the roof and thus was not tested by my inspector."
A month later I consulted with a lawyer, who after writing two letters to all parties involved in my closing received only one formal response. It was now October and my repair list had grown to having no heat, plumbing issues in two of the four bathrooms, termites in the basement, water and mold damage in the basement, a roof in need of repairs -- and do not forget, no air condensers. To date I had spent about $2,200 in repairs and had estimates for $16,000 more.
I knew I did not have that type of money, so I began writing letters to the Better Business Bureau, the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division, and my Congressman. I was told by two that this issue was out of their jurisdiction and did not even get a response from the third.
So I continued to write, this time to the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. I thought filing complaints against the contractors who performed the work on the house would yield resolution. This time, I was told I had no valid complaint because I did not hire the contractors to perform work -- the previous owner did.
"This can't be happening," I kept thinking.
Keisha pressed onward, trying the city's code enforcement office. An official there seemed interested in helping, but didn't get back to her as promised, she says. So she went to the office again, this time to see the permits on her home:
"Am I reading this correctly?" I asked the permits clerk.
Her reply, with a look of dismay: "Yes ma'am, it appears your property has never had any final inspection."
Translation: The city allowed the builder to close the walls to my property without a final inspection on the plumbing, HVAC and electrical.
What was left for me to do? My last resort -- I wrote the then-mayor and sent copies to the deputy commissioner of code enforcement.
At this point, it was the end of December. With, if you'll recall, no working heat in her house. But that letter did the trick. She received calls from several people.
Mid-January 2010, eight months after my first problem surfaced and many more developed, the deputy commissioner of code enforcement called and asked to meet me. The following Monday my heat was repaired at no cost to me and an agreement was made between myself and the builder as to what other repairs his company would make at no cost to me.
To date the builder has made good on that agreement -- at his own pace, but the repairs are being made.
The lessons I take from this experience and hope some buyer somewhere will find useful:
1. Hire your own home inspector and other closing professionals, including a real estate attorney, independent of your agent's choice of professionals. Google search your agent -- I wished I did. You will be surprised what a simple Google search will reveal.
2. Visit your local code enforcement office to verify permit status on the property you're considering.
3. Check with your local licensing agency to ensure all contractors are licensed to work in your state.
4. Keep accurate records of dates, times, names, phone calls made, letters written, etc.
5. Never give up. If you know you have been wronged, keep writing, calling, visiting offices. Someone will listen eventually.
Thanks very much for sharing your experience, Keisha. I hope your home serves you well from here on out.