Monday, June 01, 2015

TOP STORY >> Couple drowns in a sea of debt

Leader staff writer

A Sherwood couple in their 20s say they’ll soon be buried under a mountain of debt because their house was built on a lot that plans show should have been held for retention — somewhere rainwater was supposed to drain from their subdivision.

Repairing the damaged foundation would cost as much as a new house, first-time homeowner Monica Bearden of 8250 Nora Lane in the Hidden Lakes Estates subdivision told The Leader.

The Beardens have spent more than $40,000 in house payments, having the problem diagnosed and other costs associated with trying to resolve the problem. Then they’ll be $162,000 in debt when the foreclosure goes through.

She said the family’s only option — after filing a lawsuit against the builder who went bankrupt the week before a jury trial would have been held — is to await foreclosure instead of “throwing money out the window.”

No one will help, and her property was “never meant to be a buildable lot” because “someone from the city wrote” that on the plans, Bearden said.

The issue is water-saturated land that equates to a house with a “marshmallow” base, she elaborated.

Bearden also said meeting with the mayor and others proved fruitless.

But Mayor Virginia Young said the family was told the builder caused the problems. She told The Leader officials have done all that they feel they needed to do for the family.

Bearden added that City Attorney Steve Cobb was “hateful” about the couple’s problem.

Cobb told The Leader, “I empathize with them. I really do, and even went to bankruptcy court with them.” But he emphasized the fault is not with the city and there is nothing the city can do.

At first, the family did blame their builder, Danny McGill. Now, the mother of two young children, explained, “I hate to say that it wasn’t his fault, but I feel like it kind of falls back on the city more than anybody. The city’s the one that you have to get approved (by) and the city’s supposed to be out here inspecting it and everything like that.”

The problems at Bearden’s home — constructed in late 2013 — began with a crack in one of the closets plus a gap between the baseboards and floor. They now include doors that won’t close without being shaved to fit warped frames and more cracks.

Eventually, Bearden said, the house will be “not livable,” as the floor will drop enough to crush its plumbing. Being able to sell it is not likely, as all of the problems must be disclosed, she noted.

McGill came out to look at the issue and said it would be fixed.

Over several months, Bearden said he was still building and the couple agreed to keep quiet about the damage so that McGill could sell more homes.

She claims the builder told them he would use profits from those sales to fix the house.

Bearden eventually contacted American Structure Repair and American Leak Detection. Finally, a foundation company ran tests that revealed the damage had been caused by water sitting under the house.

That same water prevents her children, a 10-month-old and a 4-year-old, from playing in the yard that is filled with knee-high, stagnant water at times and often soaked for months.

The $5,000 solution suggested by the foundation company was to inject foam by drilling “nickel-size” holes in the floor. Bearden said, “Who wants that? We just built this brand new house.”

Another fix, the one that would cost hundreds of thousands, involves installing piers to lift the house up from the ground. All the floors would be ripped up in that case.

Bearden also said, “We’re the only ones that have actual interior problems. We have flooding issues. The whole neighborhood has flooding issues, but we’re the only ones that have structural damage.”

Hers has not been the loudest or most persistent voice to call foul. Luis Garces, president of the property owners association, has spoken about the matter at city council meetings.

He claims Sherwood officials have violated several of the city’s own laws. Alleged wrongdoings include not inspecting the subdivision after it was built, not having the as-built plans, not having a certified letter — Garces says all are listed as requirements in the city’s books — and not responding to a Freedom of Information Act request in a timely manner.

City Engineer Ellen Norvell has said at council meetings that her department doesn’t have the staffing to inspect every construction project.

The city hired Bond Engineering to check out the flooding late last year, but that firm only saw the plans and didn’t physically examine the subdivision, Garces said.

The only plans officials have offered are preliminary, and what was built doesn’t match them, he noted.

Garces also told The Leader that the water flooding his yard would have damaged an air conditioning unit next to the house had the unit not been placed on concrete blocks.

At the council meeting Tuesday, the mayor told Garces he couldn’t speak because he would be repeating the same information.

Young told The Leader in a interview on Thursday that water hadn’t been getting inside people’s homes, and “everything that everybody has said is not accurate.”