Zerla says that someone reminded them that they have two children and told them that an unpermitted addition to their property could easily fall apart or burn down.
The Bells had expected to be met halfway, but instead they were given two options: correct the violation or let the bank foreclose on their house.
“You can’t intentionally foreclose. That’s irresponsible. Why would you do that? You got your first home and now you want to foreclose it? How else can you buy another home? Who else is going to loan you the money?” asked Zerla.
The Bells did not find a resolution at their meeting. “They’re just going to belittle you in there,” Zerla said.
After they informed Greg Cox’s office of the outcome of the resolution meeting, Cox extended no further help.
Undeterred, the Bells continued to fight for their property.
On December 31, 2009, they attempted to reach out to the seller of their home, Freddie Mac.
Their friend and realtor, Perry Wright, wrote a letter requesting that the company assist in the demolition and renovation costs for the property. He asserted that Freddie Mac had failed in its duty to inform the Bells that the home violated county regulations. He wrote that neither Litton Loan Servicing, LP, nor Freddie Mac had “notified the buyers, their lender or their agent of this material fact.”
Theodore Flo, counsel for Freddie Mac, responded with the following written statement:
“The notices of violation were addressed to Litton Loan Servicing, not to Freddie Mac. Litton informs us that it never received them. Moreover, Freddie Mac became aware of the apparent violation only after closing when an individual from the Department of Planning and Land Use (DPLU) called our broker’s office and later faxed copies to him. Thus, your assertion that Freddie Mac had actual knowledge of the violations throughout the escrow period is incorrect.”
Flo further stated, “We regret that your clients are unhappy with the outcome of their purchase, but we believe that attributing their misfortune to Freddie Mac is unwarranted.”
Wright refuted Litton’s claim of never receiving the citations, saying that a photocopy of the check with which Litton paid the $100 fine can be obtained from the Department of Planning and Land Use. Since Litton was operating as an agent for Freddie Mac, said Wright, Freddie Mac should take responsibility.
“We did our due diligence. As first-time homebuyers, we went to the County records and tax records offices,” stated Zerla, who feels they did everything in their power to make sure their first home purchase wouldn’t have any problems.
Mike added, “We researched the house and anything you can find.”
Among the things that they did, the Bells confirmed that the current footprint of the home matched the square footage in the tax assessor’s records and made sure there were no recorded zoning violations or liens on the property. However, the Department of Planning and Land Use citations were not recorded by the county recorder’s office. The Bells, like most homebuyers, were unaware that a visit to the Department of Planning and Land Use was necessary.
In the course of qualifying for the FHA loan, the home was appraised by a government inspector, who confirmed that it measured 1302 square feet. The inspector was relying on square footage sourced by the county recorder’s office.
Mike and Zerla found no red flags during their research and believed that everything was fine once an inspector appraised the home and approved their loan.
After the Bells received the citation, they went to the Department of Planning and Land Use and found that the department’s records for their home showed it was smaller than 1302 square feet.
The Bells are trying to do everything they can to hold off the County from issuing further citations and forcing them off their property.
They’ve applied for a permit to demolish and rebuild the unpermitted construction to their home. They hope this will buy them time while they figure out a way to raise money.
Their realtor isn’t optimistic. “They have to try to somehow scrape up the dough. I really don’t see how that’s possible,” said Wright.
He believes that there could be an easy fix. “We want the Department of Planning and Land Use to recognize that the buyers are not at fault, that the government failed in providing protections for the client,” said Wright. “With that in mind, grant that variance. They can do that with a pen stroke.”
“It put a big dent in our plans,” said Zerla. “The County did this to us. The government did this to us. Even our lender wouldn’t help us. If we foreclose, they still get paid because of the insurance. Everybody wins, except us.
“We can’t walk away. That’s the bottom line. It’s too much of a commitment to walk away,” Zerla said, as tears welled up in her eyes.