By Rachana Dixit
Published: March 29, 2009 Buying a home is, for many, a dream. But a Louisa County resident says the initial excitement associated with purchasing her first home has degraded into a nightmarish, five-year-long battle against her home’s builders and the county government.
Lorrie Hargrove moved into her home — a four-bedroom, one-floor house that sits on roughly 10 acres and is surrounded by soaring trees — in January 2004. But the pristine environment of living in rural Virginia faded quickly, she said, after realizing that her home was not functioning as it should and was rife with building code violations.
The house became plagued by electrical deficiencies, bathrooms that only partially worked, septic system failures and a foundation that was not properly reinforced, which she discovered after multiple skunks burrowed their way under her home, she said.
Hargrove alleges in a lawsuit filed against the county this month in Louisa County Circuit Court that she implored several county officials — such as then-building inspector Robert Vogt and Board of Supervisors member Fitzgerald Barnes — to enforce what she perceived to be the obvious building code violations in her home. A third-party inspection of Hargrove’s home found that there would be at least $100,000 in repairs needed to bring the home up to code.
The home’s foundation, Hargrove said, is not supporting her home. Doors are not properly aligned in their frames, the septic tank is cracked and her electric bills have been as much as $500 a month.
A statement from Dale Mullen, Louisa’s county administrator, said, “It is against the policy of Louisa County to comment on matters in litigation, except to say that this claim concerning allegations over four years old was previously denied by the Louisa County Board of Supervisors by Resolution at a public meeting held September 15, 2008.”
Mullen added that the county is “committed to providing reliable core public services that include professional code and building inspectors.”
Hargrove conceded that when she purchased the home from builders Danny and Lorena Stroud, the contract had an “as is” clause, meaning that as the home’s buyer, she was buying the house in its condition at that time. But Hargrove said the clause was not properly cited in the contract, and she has already filed a separate suit against the builders.
In the suit, Hargrove alleges that the Strouds committed fraud. A hearing for that case will take place Monday.
“The ‘as is’ doesn’t apply when fraud comes in,” she said.
The most recent suit against the county government alleges that the county was grossly negligent in granting a certificate of occupancy for Hargrove’s home because it clearly violated building codes and county officials did not do anything to remedy the situation.
According to the suit, the only thing done to attempt to fix the situation was in 2005 — the current county building official, Paul Snyder, notified the home’s builders of the violations, but the Strouds failed to act and the county did not enforce the law.
Additionally, the suit said that in 2007, the county issued 12 notices of building code violations to the Strouds, but no remedial action was taken because the statute of limitations had expired.The Strouds could not be reached for comment.
When no action was taken for years, Hargrove said she submitted a claim to the Board of Supervisors in May, alleging negligence on the part of county building officials in the inspection of her home.
Though Hargrove said she had a home inspection done before she moved in, the house’s malfunctioning aspects could have only been discovered by building inspectors as the house was being built.
“These things are concealed,” Hargrove said.
Six members of the seven-person board voted in September to deny Hargrove’s claim, with Barnes being the only supervisor to abstain from the vote. The most recent suit is to appeal the board’s denial of Hargrove’s claim.
Barnes said he could not comment on the litigation, and calls to Snyder, the building inspector, were not returned.
But for now, Hargrove is stuck in her home, because she knows she can’t sell it in the condition that it’s in.
“The house is a total loss,” she said.