Housing program under fire from both sides

Wesley LeBlanc
Posted 5/23/18

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Housing program under fire from both sides

Posted

ORANGE PARK – A state initiative that uses Florida tax dollars to repair homes and a contractor hired by the program are at odds in a situation of he said, she said, and in the middle of it all, is a Clay County homeowner isn’t happy.

In 2016, Wendy Holland, 47, who lives on 1718 Cinnamon Dr. in Orange Park, applied for the State Housing Initiative Partnership Program. Referred to simply as SHIP, the program provides funds to local governments as an incentive to create partnerships that produce and preserve affordable homeownership and multifamily housing with the goal of help low to moderate income families in need.

The program also helps the elderly and the disabled, or those not capable of making necessary repairs to their home themselves. In this case, Holland falls into the latter as she was diagnosed in her twenties with idiopathic, refractory epilepsy. Idiopathic means the cause is unknown and refractory means medications cannot help.

Holland had her first epilepsy-related seizure at age 20. In 2005, she underwent brain surgery to remove a large section of her right temporal lobe, her hippocampus and her amygdala on the right side of her brain. Not only does Holland live with the symptoms of epilepsy, she lives with suicidal ideation depression, anxiety and insomnia as a result as well. Because of this, she is unable to do certain things necessary to repair problems with her home such as climb a ladder and more.

According to the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, SHIP funds may be used to fund emergency repairs, new construction, rehabilitation, down payment and closing cost assistance, impact fees, construction and gap financing, mortgage downs, acquisition of property for affordable housing, matching dollars for federal housing grants and programs and homeownership counseling.

Holland simply wanted a new roof and her tree canopy raised.

“I had a bad roof and my trees were encroaching on my house,” Holland said. “I just needed to get my roof replaced, because I can’t do it, and I wanted my tree canopy raised and some of the trees removed.”

SHIP approved Holland’s grant on February 12, 2016 for an amount not to exceed $25,000. Less than a month later, on April 5, the Clay County SHIP department sent Thomas Stauffacher, their inspector, to Holland’s house for an initial inspection. Despite only wishing to see her roof and tree problem addressed, Stauffacher asked on behalf of SHIP for a list of everything wrong with her house. Holland did not want to do this but eventually conceded as she was told it was required. Clay County SHIP Executive Director, Theresa Sumner, said the repairs SHIP makes aren’t up to the homeowner.

“The repairs that are made under SHIP are solely at the discretion of the SHIP coordinator and the inspector and we are looking for health and safety issues,” Sumner said.

Soon after providing a list to Stauffacher, Holland opened her house up to a contractor walk through on April 26, 2016. Of the many contractors that participated in this walkthrough – all attempting to spec the house and job out – Robert Bernard, president of Bernard Development Inc., was present. On May 25, 2016 Sumner, Bernard and Holland signed paperwork giving Bernard the go ahead to acquire permits for the job as he was the lowest bidder.

SHIP is under the jurisdiction of the Housing Finance Authority and their rules, which require SHIP to accept the lowest responsible bidder. Robert Bernard Development launched his company in 2005 after moving to the area from South Florida. Bernard has over 15 years of hands-on contracting experience under his belt and has completed nearly 60 jobs for Clay SHIP. Holland’s SHIP request would simply be another job but now – two years later – he’s still reeling from that job today.

“SHIP owes me money and they owe me a lot,” Bernard said. “They owe me roughly $20,000 with $7,000 of that coming from my work on [Holland’s] house.”

According to Bernard, had he known this job would end with him not being paid what he says he’s owed, he never would’ve put in a bid.

Before Bernard began work on Holland’s home, the two had never met. Neither knew that they would one day grow to dislike each other. This relationship began to crumble just two weeks after the paperwork was signed when Bernard attempted to upgrade her floors at his own expense.

“She was supposed to get vinyl sheets which have a 10-year life and I put down an upgraded floor for her out of my own pocket,” Bernard said. “I put in vinyl planks which have a 25-year life but she didn’t like it and complained to SHIP. SHIP got back to me and I told [Holland] I’d replace the flooring but it would be with vinyl.”

Holland saw this differently, though.

“I was told the day my flooring was supposed to happen that they were changing the flooring material from what I signed for to something Bernard said he was upgrading at his own expense to,” Holland said. “I was told to meet at Home Depot and only had three options to choose from in stock.”

Bernard Development’s supervisor for the Holland job, Bryan Self – who is Bernard’s grandson – told Holland she had to pick one in stock because they only had a week to complete the job and couldn’t wait five days for other flooring options to ship in. According to the official contract, though, there was 60 days to complete the job. This caused the first rift in the working relationship between Bernard and Holland.

The rift grew when it became apparent to Holland that Bernard’s services did not meet her standards. Holland said Bernard and his company’s employees, and the subcontractors he hired, would often show up late or not at all, often without any word or warning. On June 9, 2016, roofers who were supposed to be at Holland’s house at 7 a.m. never arrived and halfway through the day, she was told they had an emergency and would be back the next day. The next day, plumbers were scheduled to do an emergency repiping project but the plumbers never showed up either, according to Holland.

“I went five days without water,” Holland said.

During all of this, Holland maintained near-constant communication with Sumner to ensure the executive director of SHIP was aware of the problems Holland said she encountered.

Holland said other problems arose, such as faulty electrician work, which Bernard takes responsibility for. According to Bernard, he hired a subcontractor to do the electrical work and they were supposed to put in a bathroom ventilation fan with the vent running to the outside of the house – instead it was vented into the attic. According to Clay County Building Division Director David Conner, this did not pass inspection. As a result, Bernard sent the electrician back out to complete the job properly.

Some of the problems encountered ended just like that – the problem was recognized and the work was corrected. Others, however, still persist two years later.

In the fall of 2016, Holland was set to receive a nearly-complete rework of her hallway bathroom. If everything went correctly, this would have included a newly-glazed bathtub. Unfortunately, according to Holland, it didn’t go correctly and a few days after the glazing, Holland found herself in the emergency room.

“The guy [a subcontractor hired by Bernard] didn’t have a supervisor on site and he didn’t use the right equipment,” Holland said, with Sumner confirming this information to her. “The smell of the chemicals used stayed and stayed and I eventually ended up in the ER with headaches, nausea and diarrhea.

“The doctors couldn’t rule out if the glazing chemicals [and lack of proper ventilation during the job] caused this,” Holland said.

After hearing about this, Sumner told Holland not to let anyone continue this work unless a supervisor was on site with the tub glazer and that when they returned, she shouldn’t be at the house to further avoid potential chemical hazards. However, the subcontractor returned without a supervisor, without proper equipment and without notice, at least according to Holland.

She phoned Sumner, who in turn, told Holland to tell the subcontractor to leave. Eventually, the job would get done, which not only included a reglazing of the tub, but a proper caulking of the tub and grout replacement of the bathroom tiles. Holland still finds herself disappointed with this work today.

“I still have cracked tiles and grout that should not have been used,” Holland said.

Bernard however, offers a different account. According to Bernard, he and his workers have returned to correct this job more than five times, leaving each time thinking the job complete only to receive a call from Sumner explaining that Holland was unhappy with the work. Eventually, Bernard stopped trying to fix this problem.

“We would do the job and then after we leave, she would claim we broke a tile and that just isn’t true,” Bernard said. “Still though, we’d go and fix it but it was never enough. I can’t continue to invest time and money in the project under these circumstances.

“Now, she thinks she’s entitled to a full retiling because she thinks we broke her tile but we did no such thing,” Bernard said.

Holland still believes this work to have been completed improperly today. Furthermore, she believes her roof, floors and more should not have passed inspection. She also believes that she lost a lot of manufacturer warranties because of Bernard’s work. According to Sumner and Connor, though, that’s not the case. They said Holland isn’t guaranteed a manufacturer warranty – which is technically in the hands of Bernard Development – the company who buys the materials and that she’s only guaranteed through a one-year contractor warranty through her SHIP contract. Furthermore, all work completed on her house has passed county inspection with the exception of the grout and caulk work, according to Conner.

Conner believes Holland’s dissatisfaction stems from unmet expectations.

“We follow state statute when doing inspections so if we pass or fail something, it’s based on those,” Conner said. “Everyone wants an A but to pass, you only need a C.”

Of course, this was an analogy as house inspections don’t follow a grade system. Sumner said that often, a contractor might see a different contractor’s work and say something like, “I could’ve done this better,” or “I could have made this look nicer,” but at the end of the day, the work passed inspection because it passed state codes, not because it looks nice.

Despite passing inspections, Connor said that inspectors can’t inspect every single detail and because of that, things might fall through the cracks, which he assures would get fixed if brought to their attention.

“We rely on the contractors to follow state statute when doing a job,” Connor said. “To keep their license, they shouldn’t be doing work that doesn’t follow code. If they have their license, it’s because they follow code so when we inspect, we inspect what we can and then assume the contractor did his job correctly.”

An inspector might inspect a shelf and say it passes but that same inspector might miss that a screw used to install that shelf was used incorrectly. That’s because the inspector trusts that the contractor used the screw correctly, because it’s their job to do so.

“Our inspections are based on the legal minimum,” Connor said. “A job could be done better than code but as long as a job follows code, it will pass.”

Unhappy with SHIP and work on her house passing inspection despite her belief that it shouldn’t, Holland contacted both the Florida Building Coalition and the Florida Housing Finance Corporation to file a formal complaint against the Clay County SHIP program. The Florida Building Coalition told her the Florida Housing Finance Corporation would be better suited to handle this.

Eventually, the Florida Housing Finance Corporation told Holland that it does not plan to intervene as they believe Sumner and the Clay County SHIP program are looking into Holland’s best interests, despite Holland telling them she does not feel this way.

As it stands today, Holland is unhappy with Sumner and SHIP and Bernard, both mentally and legally.

“He has questioned my intelligence, my memory, my disability and he has not fixed the problems he made in my house,” Holland said of Bernard, whose contract with her has now been terminated.

Holland wants to hire an independent contractor to complete work on her house and she wants the SHIP money to pay for it. However, Sumner said this is not allowed.

“She doesn’t have grant money just sitting around. That’s not how it works,” Sumner said. “We can use up to $25,000 but it’s not her $25,000. It’s money we have at our disposal and we are not allowed to hire an independent contractor like she wishes.”

In the meantime, Bernard SHIP to pay his outstanding invoices as well.

“They owe me money and as far as I’m concerned, this isn’t over until I get paid,” Bernard said.

As far as payment goes, Bernard said he hasn’t received the $7,537 he is owed from Holland’s job because there is work his company did but never completed properly, at least according to the termination contract he received telling Bernard his company was off the job.

“With respect to Ms. Holland’s home, beginning in mid-August 2016 and continuing for months, you have been repeatedly advised both verbally and in writing of defective work relating to grouting tile, correctly applying caulk, and repairing tile that was cut necessarily,” reads the termination contract.

He also said because his contract has been terminated, he is not allowed to go back and complete the job. It would seem that there is $7,537 worth of work left to be done, or corrected, in Holland’s house considering that’s how much money SHIP is withholding from Bernard Development. Menawhile, Conner said all work on Holland’s house is complete and has passed inspection. Sumner said the same thing, with the exception of the grout and caulk that needs to be replaced.

Because of this, it would seem that in the eyes of SHIP, the work Bernard failed to complete properly – the grout and caulk – is worth $7,537.60, which is the exact amount Bernard said SHIP owes him. According to Bernard’s contract, however, the grout and caulk work is $33 of the job. That would indicate that Bernard is still missing out on $7504.46 of the work he completed.

If Conner says all work is complete and has passed inspection, and Sumner says the same thing, except for the $33 caulk and grout work, what is the justification for withholding $7,504.46 from Bernard?

What remains are three unhappy parties involved in the same renovation project.

Bernard just wants to get paid and Holland simply wants her house repaired. Today, she claims her roof has high nails and shingles that never sealed. As a result, a porch roof that is leaking significantly more than it was before contractors got involved, poor soffit repairs on the porch roof and, of course, the grout and caulk problems.

She also believes both of her bathrooms should be retiled at this point because according to her, many of tiles were cut during the initial work. Beyond that, she feels that her house needs to be repiped and that some of her trees should be further raised as they are still threatening her property – some trees weren’t even touched because SHIP said they weren’t threatening Holland’s property, despite being within 10 feet of the house, according to Holland.

Sumner wants Holland to realize that all but the caulk and grout in her bathroom is complete and has passed code. According to Sumner, Holland had her trees trimmed away from the roof deck, a new roof installed, three entry doors installed, her soffit replaced, her HVAC compressor replaced, a kitchen sink cabinet repaired and new flooring in two bathrooms, an entry way and the kitchen. She also said SHIP installed new exhaust fans in both of Holland’s bathrooms, a new bathtub in the master bathroom, a full-house repipe and a new garage door.

“While construction in general is stressful, I would remind you that the SHIP program completed [the above repairs] to Ms. Holland’s home, making quite a significant impact on the condition of her home, adding decades to the life of the house,” Sumner said. “Without these repairs, Ms. Holland’s home would have very rapidly deteriorated to a point of an unsuitable housing environment.”

It’s been over two years since all of this began and today, despite what Sumner says, Holland is no more happier in her home than she did before SHIP got involved.

“I just want my house to feel like home again,” Holland said.

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