I bought my first home, only to become a victim of predatory remodeling.

This is the story of how I got tricked by malicious criminals into purchasing a home that was riddled with code violations and faulty, unsafe conditions. The house flippers were not licensed contractors, and no building permits were pulled. There was no paper trail, and no way for my house inspector to detect the multitude of problems that were cleverly hidden behind beautifully finished drywall, concrete, and woodwork. Richard Wu commits real estate fraud!

In The News
Remodeling Magazine
Sun Focus Newspaper

My story began to appear on the evening news...

...and in magazines.

Meanwhile, the problems just kept piling up.

The tile in the front entryway cracked, indicating that it was improperly installed by the flippers.

A few days later, the bathroom tile cracked as well.

One of the bedroom windows had a frame and sill that was mostly rotted-away. The flipper simply filled the rotten gap with yellow expanding foam, and painted over it to hide the problem.

While hiding all of these building code violations, the flipper decided to take another shortcut and spray paint the walls in one thick coat without paint primer. All of the wall paint flaked off easily in large sheets.

Month 2 - Demolition

It was too difficult for contractors to estimate repairs to my house when the known problems were still covered by drywall and tile, so I hired a general contractor to do some basic demolition work to reveal the problems.

Instantly, 50% of our square footage that comprised the lower level of our house, including the master bedroom, became unusable. We reluctantly moved all of our furniture and belongings to the upper level, and unhooked our laundry machines. We began hauling our dirty laundry to my parents' house each week.

A large number of additional plumbing problems were found. In the laundry room, the flipper intentionally covered the only floor drain in the house with an installed base cabinet, used a backwards Y-union, and cemented the drain pipes directly into the sewer cleanout access.

PVC drain pipes had drywall screws puncturing them! These were supposed to be protected by metal stud plates.

We also discovered that the dryer was hooked up with a vinyl hose that was covered with drywall, against code.

One of the upstairs bathroom floor joists was illegally cut more than 2/3rds of the way through to allow the bathtub drain pipe to pass through it. This left the joist severely weakened.

The bathroom drains were a zig-zag of piecemeal pipes, rubber unions, and another backwards Y-union. None of the drains were vented, and none of the work was even close to building code.

Many friends offered to help us with the ongoing demolition. Here, they are excavating the improper underground drain pipes.

Month 3 - More Hidden Plumbing Code Violations

The refrigerator had been installed without a shut-off valve or any slack in the water / ice-maker line. When we pulled the fridge away from the wall, it ruptured the line, spraying water everywhere.

In the basement, this same water / ice-maker line was installed with an illegal self-tapping saddle valve which pierces a main copper water pipe. These are not allowed in Minnesota (and a growing number of other states) because they are prone to leaks.

Unbelievably, this important gas shut-off valve was concealed above the basement ceiling drywall!

And this important water shut-off valve was hidden above the downstairs bathroom ceiling!

There was absolutely no way to access the valve without demolishing the ceiling.

The bathroom tub and shower had been framed such that the showerhead, control manifold, and tub spigot were all on top of a stud!

Secondly, as with all the pluming in the house, the flipper sweat the copper in place, burning the stud. In this instance the stud was charred so badly that the fire had burned away a substantial amount of the wood, severely weakening the stud.

Further demolition revealed that some of the studs were not even plumb!

Month 4 - Begging for Bids

Although dozens of general contractors looked at our house, nearly all of them turned-down the project as it was just too risky. Many contractors do not carry the additional insurance needed to correct another party's faulty work.

We needed 3 written estimates before we could begin a legal case. After several months, we finally got bids estimating repairs between $70,000 and $100,000. (Remember, the house was only worth $174,000.)

Month 5 - Hidden Electrical Code Violations

The flipper's illegal remodeling work continued to surface as demolition continued. Most of the wiring was not attached to framing and the antiquated fuse box was located inside a closet, which is a major fire hazard! When the drywall around it was exposed, we learned that the flipper hid all of the disconnected cable TV, telephone, and low voltage wires behind the paneling and buried them in giant globs of drywall mud.

This junction box was hidden behind drywall.

This telephone jack was found orphaned inside the ceiling.

We found dozens of wires spliced together without a junction box...

...or junction boxes that were covered by drywall, against building code.

More demolition work was needed to continue exposing the problems, so I decided to do it myself.

As we demolished the ceiling, we found dozens of wire splices without junction boxes, and multiple junction boxes that were illegally covered with drywall.

We discovered another junction box hidden above the ceiling drywall.

And two more.

This bath fan had had no junction box.

And this recessed light had its own attached junction box, but when the flipper installed it above the bathroom ceiling, the box collided with a nearby water pipe. So he removed the box cover cover, and bent the junction box up against the copper pipe until the fixture fit into place.

Another ceiling junction box was hidden behind drywall.

And another electrical splice had no junction box at all.

Another wire splice without wire nuts and missing a junction box was found.

This ceiling box was improperly used inside wall, and hidden behind drywall.

In the remodeled kitchen we found electric wires pinched between framing and drywall!

In the basement we found electric wires simply stuffed underneath the baseboards!

Month 6 - HVAC Code Violations

As our first winter settled in, new problems surfaced. None of the solid wood doors would close because they wouldn't fit inside their door frames, indicating that they were installed without the proper clearance.

The lower level HVAC was completely wrong, with outlets positioned in the middle of the room instead of the perimeter. And the cold air returns were often adjacent to the heating outlets!

The flipper had cut large holes into both the heating ducts and cold air returns!

And this heating register had been cut directly into the main duct, and then framed-in with paint stir sticks and Liquid Nails!

Instead of using proper heating duct boots, the flipper ignored building codes again, and fashioned them out of wads of duct tape!

What's more, the heating registers were spray painted in place after installation.

I discovered that a closet ceiling that had drywall screwed directly into the heating duct!

Also, our dining room was freezing cold, and there didn't seem to be any access to the crawlspace beneath it.

I suspected that foundation access beneath the dining room had been covered up with drywall, probably in the basement.

So I carefully marked the area to be demolished...

...and began removing drywall.

Sure enough, the flipper had sealed up my crawlspace access and hid it behind drywall, completely against building code!

Here is the crawlspace underneath my dining room, which had been starving for heat during the winter months.

The flipper had littered it with construction debris.

About the Author

Frost Simula purchased his first house in Columbia Heights, Minnesota in May of 2013. When it became clear that the Seller had committed real estate fraud, Frost began documenting the nightmare of hidden building code violations, the struggle to save the property from condemnation, and the ongoing ordeal to find justice. An active citizen in his community, Frost is currently working with local, county, and state lawmakers to ensure that nobody becomes a victim of predatory remodeling again. Frost is frequently featured in the media, and maintains his Hoodwinked House website to educate the public about real estate fraud.