NC family's dream home becomes nightmare after code violations missed during inspections

Diane Wilson Image
Wednesday, May 31, 2023
New home nightmare for Chatham County couple
What was supposed to be a forever home for a Chatham County family is now an "unsellable" home that they fear isn't even fit to live in.

CHATHAM COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- What was supposed to be a forever home for the Muehlbach family, is now a home that they say they wonder if it's safe to live in.

"I'm just so sick of worrying for my safety. I'm sick of worrying financially it's just it's been a hard few years," Anita Muehlbach said.

A hard few years indeed for the Muehlbach family since they moved into their Chatham County home in 2020. They have 10 acres in the county and hired a licensed builder, Lindley Builders Inc., to construct their dream home.

During construction, it passed every inspection done by the Chatham County inspections department. But shortly after getting the certificate of occupancy, Jake Muehlbach said there were issues.

"Immediately started noticing problems with the home," he said."

He added that these were not small issues, but major ones: "I found a beam that wasn't nailed together sufficiently and it was actually separating and the boards had pulled apart enough for me to have fingers between them."

Jake Muehlbach said the owner of Lindley Builders Inc. did attempt to fix that issue, but the problems with the home only got worse.

"Humps running through the length of our house in the floor," he said. "Tried to work with the builder for several months trying to get the stuff corrected."

One code violation after another

The Muehlbachs also notified Chatham County about the problems with the home. The Chatham County Building Inspections supervisor went back out to the home and documented more than a dozen code violations.

The North Carolina Office of State Fire Marshal, which oversees inspectors, also verified 15 code violations.

"It should have never even got to the framing. It should have been stopped at the foundation," Jake said. "If we would have been alerted to the issues, we could have re-evaluated our builder and contacted an engineer if need be. Instead, the project just progressed."

The Muehlbachs walked Troubleshooter Diane Wilson through their home showing her all of the code violations. Outside of the home, Jake pointed out one of the code violations.

"Failure to damp proof the foundation," he noted.

In the crawl space, there are several code violations that he showed Wilson.

"These ledger strips are another code violation," Jake said. "They're too wide for the size of nails that were used, so it actually didn't penetrate enough so you can see they are rolling off this beam and that's what holds your floor joist up."

And another code violation: "This beam is not even in the correct place," Jake said. "The load-bearing wall is about right here so this beam is not centered under the load-bearing wall, which is causing a hump down the entire house. The piers are drastically over-spaced."

Inside the home, even more code violations.

"All of the rafters are 2x8 and drastically undersized, so this whole section of the roof needs to be pulled off the roof and re-framed," Jake showed Wilson.

Costly legal battles

The Muehlbachs said that when they couldn't get Lindley Builders Inc. to fix the code violations or its insurance company to cover the issues, they took the builder to court and won.

In March, a judge ordered Lindley Builders Inc. to pay the Muehlbachs $225,000 for breach of contract and warranty.

"That judgment is not paid and is now delinquent," Jake said.

Wilson tried to reach Lindley Builders Inc. and its attorney but did not hear back from either. The Muehlbachs also wanted Chatham County to be held responsible.

"They failed us," Jake said. "They failed us every step of the way, from issuing the permits to doing their inspections and to finally giving us the certificate of occupancy."

Chatham County does have an insurance policy, but in court, the County and its Inspections Department filed for governmental immunity, claiming each inspection was part of government functions, making the county immune from any claims by the Muehlbachs. A judge ruled in favor of Chatham County and dismissed all claims.

Chatham County Manager Dan LaMontagne provided this statement "While we greatly empathize with the Muehlbach family and what they have endured in this unfortunate situation, the NC Courts found that Chatham County is not legally responsible and therefore, dismissed the County from the lawsuit. The Courts ultimately ruled in favor of the Muehlbachs against Lindley Builders, Inc."

The Muehlbachs said they can't believe the situation they are left with when it comes to their new home.

"We thought we had all these safeguards in place, little did we know that in this situation, we're the only ones that are not protected," Anita said.

A staggering cost to make things right

The Muehlbachs continue living in their not-up-to-code home and are not sure what steps to take next.

Two different reports from contractors state that correcting all of the code violations will cost more than $400,000.

"We should have moved in this house and had equity. Now we've spent our life savings between building the house and paying for this lawsuit," Jake said. "Now we have a home that's unsellable. Basically not worth the land it's sitting on, still paying Chatham County taxes. So I don't know where we go from here. There's not many good options for us."

They have started a GoFundMe with a friend to try to help with expenses.

"Most of the contractors have recommended a full tear down to rebuild just because there's so many unknowns," Jake said. "My engineer recommended destructive inspections, which basically means tearing out walls and floors to try to see what else is wrong with the home because it's suspected we'll find some more issues when that takes place. So it kind of scares off most contractors from even being willing to try to repair the house."

The Muelhbachs did file a complaint with the State Licensing Board of General Contractors against Lindley Builders Inc., which the director told the Troubleshooter that they're investigating and hope to have a hearing scheduled by the end of the year.

This is a case that shows if you want to protect your investment in a new home, you can hire an engineer to inspect throughout the construction process. While it will cost a couple of hundred bucks for each of those inspections, it could be an extra layer of protection on top of the required county or city inspections.