Can’t get a bid

Jeff Edvenson, the general contractor who first looked at my house, lets me know that he is passing on the project as there is just too much risk associated with it. He won’t even give me a written estimate.

This same day, my friend Timmy Iverson starts a “Go Fund Me” campaign to help raise some initial funds to cover repairs. It raises over $2000 in a matter of hours.

Building Official is shocked

I call the Columbia Heights City Building Official and ask him to come see the damage done to my house. Much like the general contractors who had looked at it before him, the inspector is absolutely shocked at the level of malice that went into remodeling. He states, “I wish we had caught these guys in the act. They’d be in jail right now.” I ask the inspector what my options are. After a very long thought he reluctantly replies “You’re stuck.” Furthermore, he orders me to make the structural repairs and quickly as he fears that a large snow pack on the roof could cause the structure to buckle. Failure to fix the house means that he’ll have to “red tag” it, condemning the house, and forcing my eviction.

Storm damage!

A major wind and rainstorm sweeps through the Twin Cities, causing flooding, downed trees, power outages, and even opens up a huge sinkhole. As my roof has still not been repaired since the tree fell on it, this storm aggravates the damage, pulling more siding and insulation from my garage.

Month 2 – Half of the house is unusable

50% of my square footage that comprises the lower level of my house, including the master bedroom, become unusable during repairs. I reluctantly move all of my furniture and belongings to the upper level, and set up my bed in a spare bedroom. I begin hauling my dirty linens to my parents’ house and use their laundry machines.

Major plumbing problems discovered

Demolition begins on my house. The master bedroom becomes a storage room for fixtures, parts, and appliances that are uninstalled.

At the same time, drywall is removed to allow migration of the main electrical service panel from the illegal walk-in closet location to inside the bedroom.

All of the cable TV, telephone, and low voltage wires have been discovered to be disconnected near the main service fuse box and simply covered with gypsum, sometimes with giant globs of drywall mud.

The laundry machines are unhooked. The laundry tub and cabinet are removed.

We discover a floor drain that was intentionally covered by the laundry tub base cabinet, and a number of other disturbing problems. With the drywall removed, it is easier to see the backwards Y-union and how the drain pipe was cemented into the cleanout access.

The bathroom vanity cabinet and sink are removed. The toilet is removed. The bathroom floor tile is removed. Some of the bathroom floor concrete is broken up to investigate improper drain pipes.

Drywall on the outside of the bathroom wall is removed to inspect the shower and toilet plumbing. Again, you can see that there were never any drain vent pipes installed.

The drywall ceiling of the laundry room is removed to reveal that one of the floor joists has been illegally cut more than 1/3rd of the way through to allow the upstairs bathtub drain pipe to pass through it. This leaves the joist severely weakened.

Devastating News

I meet with my attorney to discuss my legal options. Over the course of a 2 hour meeting, he lets me know that our real estate laws are set up to favor the sale and ensure that the transaction takes place, but offers no real protection for home buyers. He tells me that finding the responsible parties and getting a court judgement against them might be possible, but the likelihood of collecting any compensation from them is slim to none. Those responsible took great care to run the transaction as a 1031-Exchange through the IRS, and they provided outdated contact info. My attorney also suggests that the Seller knew exactly what they were doing, that they had performed this type of fraud before, and that they probably used offshore bank accounts. I am told that my options are:

  • Abandon the house, forfeit my mortgage and ruin my credit for another 8 years.
  • Pray for some kind of disaster, such as a fire, that would be covered by my insurance.
  • Prepare to pay tens of thousands of dollars on the repairs out of my own pocket.

It’s at this moment that I realize I have been utterly ruined. I am devastated, can barely manage a phone call with my stunned parents, and spend the entire night awake and sobbing.

Detective work

I contact a Detective at the Anoka County Sheriff’s Department who refers me to an Anoka County Civil Investigator. I speak with the Investigator who admits that my case “certainly sounds like ‘theft by swindle’.”

I vow to challenge the law at the city, county, and state levels to ensure that no Minnesotan is ever the victim of predatory remodeling again. I call for help from my network of creative friends and media resources, urging that we begin by starting a campaign to raise awareness of predatory remodeling.

Demolition on my house also continues, and the concrete beneath the downstairs bathroom is broken up to reveal a zig-zag of drain pipes that use illegal fittings and another backwards Y-union.

Faucet handle falls off

I discover more problems with my house when my upstairs bathroom faucet handle comes off. Again,  this is not a huge deal, but when combined with other small issues, it helps paint a picture of the cut corners and cavalier attitude that went into remodeling my house. I continue to update the spreadsheet and photo-document everything.