Another bad builder

Fruit Heights couple locked in battle with homebuilder, city
March 23rd, 2011 @ 10:00pm

By Lori Prichard
produced by Kelly Just

FRUIT HEIGHTS — Kathy and Dennis Gerber are caught in a housing nightmare. But it has nothing to do with the current foreclosure mess.

“Nobody will help, so it goes around and around,” Kathy Gerber said.

In 2007, the Fruit Heights couple purchased their house from Richmond American Homes of Utah, one of the largest homebuilders in the state. In 2008, the Gerbers received a letter from the city of Fruit Heights ordering them to repair the code violations found in their home. The couple was told they had 90 days to fix the problems or vacate the premises.
"We’re living here illegally,” Dennis Gerber said.

It’s been more than two years since the couple received their first order to vacate from Fruit Heights. They say they’ve contacted Richmond American numerous times to try and get the builder to fix the problems. They have also spent thousands of dollars hiring structural engineers, inspectors, and concrete and steel specialists to try and determine what went wrong in the construction of their home.

“In this fight with the builder, we’ve spent about half of our life savings. And we just can’t do it anymore,” Dennis said.

The Gerbers’ subdivision, Hidden Springs, has more than 50 homes built by Richmond American. They say they have tried to solicit help from Fruit Heights.

“Probably a year-and-a-half after we moved in, we’ve actually gone to the City Council meetings with our documentation that the home was not made to code. It’s like talking to the wall, deaf ears. They won’t take any responsibility.” Dennis said. “But, the city come out and inspected our home and found the 29 code violations.”

The Gerbers question why the city originally passed the home’s inspection to be occupied. Fruit Heights officials declined a request for an interview or to answer questions, citing pending litigation. City inspection records, however, show that just days before the Gerbers closed on the home, the city issued a stop work order due to concerns regarding the footings, or bottom part of the house’s foundation. Three days after the notice was issued, it was lifted.

“The city basically said, ‘Well, then don’t buy the house if you don’t like it,’” Dennis said. “This, after we’ve spent six to nine months of our lives … and we had put in a large down payment.”

The couple said they had reservations at closing but had signed a purchase contract that stipulated if the couple didn’t close on time, they would lose their down payment.

“You think, ‘This is a reputable builder and they’ll come through,’” Kathy said. “‘Everything will be all right.’ That is what we thought.”

When the Gerbers moved into their home in 2007, they had no idea the headache they were in for.

But according to the inspection reports written by the engineers the couple hired, everything was not all right. Structural problems were found from the ground up.

“Some of the joists didn’t look like they were properly secured to the floor where the joists are pulling out from the wall,” said Greg McCombs, a licensed structural engineer with BHB Consulting. The Gerbers hired McCombs’ company to evaluate their home.

“Some of the joists weren’t actually bearing on the wall. They missed the wall,” McCombs continued. “They used the improper stud grade, which compromises the strength of the exterior walls and it reduces the lateral force resistance capacity of the building to resist an earthquake or even wind forces.”

Other problems found by third-party inspectors include: misplaced footings, inadequate roof trusses, missing rebar, inadequate truss connections, footings not below frost line, improper drain flow, walk-out door not poured plumb, no ties between footings, door opening over-cut, cracks over window lintel, window opening over-cut, floor joist over-spanned, no footings on bearing wall, floor joist does not bear on wall, roof truss spacing, floor joist hangers not fully nailed, damaged joist hangers, rafters do not have framing anchors, girder trusses not nailed together, truss repair is failing, bowed wall, damaged floor joists, missing bolts, straps, supports, improper roof venting, protruding nails, questionable soil quality and too little insulation.

KSL contacted Richmond American Homes regarding the litany of structural problems found by BHB Consulting, Consolidated Engineering, Universal Testing and Michael Sotuyo Design & Engineering. Richmond American refused to answer any questions but issued a written statement: “While we do not comment in the media on individual situations, our representatives are working directly with the homeowner to address this matter.”

Since KSL contacted Richmond American Homes for a comment, the Gerbers say the head of the company’s Utah division has been in contact with them and said he wants another engineer to inspect the house.

Because of their previous struggles with the company, the Gerbers have hope but still have doubts about whether Richmond American is sincere in its latest offer to work with them.

The code violations in the Gerbers’ home can be seen in the physical damage throughout the phone.

“The builder (in the past) has refused to repair even the items the city has documented,” Dennis said. “They’ve refused to honor our warranty, which is a complete separate issue from our code violations."

“Everywhere this builder could cut costs, it seems like they did,” he said.

The structural engineer also believes some of the fault lies with the city for not inspecting the home properly.

“I don’t think that the building inspector had the proper plan check,” McCombs said. “And I don’t think (the home) had a proper building inspection."

The Gerbers filed a complaint with the Department of Commerce, hoping the state would act since they believe they were not getting any help from the city of Fruit Heights. However, a Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing supervisor wrote a letter to the couple saying, “The city and county building inspectors have authority over building codes and permit violations. If there are code violations, you may contact the building inspector. The building inspector can issue a correction notice and if Richmond American Homes of Utah Inc. fails to comply with the notice, the inspector will file a complaint with our office.”

“They all refer to each other and say, ‘Well, you go to the city.’ Or the city says, ‘Well, no, we can’t do anything,’” Kathy said. “Nobody will help.”

In the meantime, the Gerbers’ home has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in assessed value. According to the Davis County assessor, the original market value for the home was $439,500. Now, the current assessed value is $106,500 — a $333,000 drop.

“If you look at this home, it’s beautiful. It looks (as if) there’s no problems,” Dennis said. “But what’s underneath the skin is the problem. It’s as if the builder knew exactly what they were doing. They could cut whatever corners that wouldn’t be visible when the finished product was done.”