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    Grande Lagoon home fell apart after shoddy work, couple says. They want builder penalized.

    By Mollye Barrows, Pensacola News Journal,

    2024-06-11
    https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=0byjT9_0tnQtwgY00

    Karl and Carol Moody planned to spend retirement living on the water in Grande Lagoon, a subdivision in southwest Escambia County. In 2011, they finished building their home and for most of the next decade enjoyed it.

    Then their dream soured.

    “It has been a nightmare,” Karl Moody said. “We've been dealing with this for a long time. We actually moved out in very late 2019, so the engineers could take the house apart and see what the heck is going on here.”

    Moody says what engineers and experts found was a house that was structurally unsound and didn’t meet Florida code. It’s a SIPs house, meaning it was built with structural insulated panels that are meant to be energy efficient and more “green” than other materials. Only, the SIPs floor panels had not been properly sealed together, which allowed moisture to get in and rot the floors, Moody said.

    “Because we're on the intracoastal, we're built up on pilings, and the floors, over time, disintegrated. We began to see stains on the wood and tile floors, then it started cracking,” he described. “Tiles started popping up, and then our islands sank because it's collapsing down on itself. Carol put an egg on our (kitchen) island one day, and it rolled off, and we're like, ‘Whoa, what is going on here?’”

    Grande Lagoon:Neighborhood hit by Sally struggles in aftermath of powerful storm surge

    The Moodys say they initially worked with the general contractor they hired to build their house, Halley Lovato with custom home design/build firm Highpointe DBR, to fix the problems. What they found, they said, was that he was the source of the issues. The Moodys said through a series of administrative mistakes, lack of oversight and shoddy work construction, problems were missed or ignored and the house fell apart, including roof, window and door leaks due to bad framing.

    The house also took a hit from Hurricane Sally in 2020. Moody said the damage was worse than it should have been because of the construction problems.

    Messages left with Highpointe DBR seeking comment from Lovato have not been returned.

    The Moodys took their complaints to the Escambia County Contractor’s Competency Board and the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR). Karl Moody said he was surprised when both entities told him that a civil lawsuit would be the best way to hold the builder accountable and county and state options to address it are limited.

    The county contractor competency board said they would schedule a hearing to determine probable cause for his complaint after a civil suit was settled. The DBPR said there was little they could do.

    “The matter you described appears to be civil in nature and does not fall within our statutory jurisdiction. Therefore, we are unable to take further action,” Anissa McDuffie-Henry with the DBPR’s Division of Regulation wrote in response to the Moodys' complaint.

    The Moodys did file and recently settled a civil action against Lovato over the poor construction of their home. During the litigation, Moody said he found that at the time Lovato built their house he wasn’t licensed with the state or county, but legally qualified to build the house under another person’s license.

    He also said there were other issues, like subcontractors working without contracts and Lovato not pulling a permit for repairs that were made before the seriousness of the problems were discovered, not to mention the condition of his home was so bad, he and his wife moved out for good.

    Moody said because of the extent of the issues they experienced he is still pushing his complaint against Lovato with the Escambia County Contractor Competency Board because he wants a public record with the county of what he and his wife went through so others will have that information.

    Now that the civil litigation is settled, the competency board held a hearing on Moody’s complaint during their June 5 meeting. The board determined there was probable cause that Lovato had done work on the house without pulling a permit and they scheduled a disciplinary hearing on the matter.

    Moody said he feels it’s like a slap on the wrist in light of the extent of the construction problems he and his wife have faced and doesn’t understand why more can’t be done.

    “We're beyond upset,” Moody said. “The house they delivered did not meet Florida code. I have an engineer’s certified statement saying that, is that not a violation?”

    According to Escambia Contractor Competency Board member Alton Lister, there’s not much the county can do because Lovato never pulled a permit.

    “If you don't have a permit, we can't find you in violation of doing work that was wrong during the permit,” Lister explained. “The first step is you have to have a permit. If you don't have a permit, we can find you in violation of not having a permit, but if you do something wrong, that particular infraction just falls under the big infraction of you didn't get a permit to begin with, so you have to start there.”

    Lister said he understands the Moodys' frustration and said that’s why the board points some people to settle complaints through civil court. Lister said Lovato can be fined for the county violation and that they will put information about what happened on the county’s website so there’s a public record for others looking for information on a contractor.

    That’s a change that came about after local contractors Matthew Banks and Jesse LaCoste were arrested for allegedly bilking customers out of tens of thousands of dollars for work that was unfinished or never done at all.

    “We're very limited to the scope of what is given to us,” Lister said. “It's all based on county ordinances and the state Florida building code. We are here for the citizens of Escambia County, and I would say that this particular board is really trying to do its best to stand up for the citizens.”

    In the meantime, the Moodys have moved. They sold their house in Grande Lagoon for just above lot price. They now live in Montana, in another SIPs home they had built, but say there no issues.

    “Where I am now, we have a SIPs house out here, but only the walls, and that build went really well. We had an awesome builder,” Moody said. “I think people just need to know what kind of general contractor (Lovato) is. We don’t want other people to go through what we went through.”

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