LONE JACK, Mo. - If a newly-constructed home has problems, many homeowners would voice their concerns to the contractor.
But a Jackson County couple believes the government is also to blame for their issues, and they claim there is evidence to prove it.
A 41 Action News investigation reviewed city inspection and permit records for a new subdivision in Lone Jack, Mo., and asked, Who’s accountable if those documents have errors or turn up blank?
Inspection reports lead to questions
On the outskirts of Jackson County, there is a subdivision called Shiloh Estates located just south of Highway 50 in Lone Jack.
However, to Richard Bolling and Michelle Nelson, the neighborhood goes by a different name. A sign in the couple’s front yard reads, “Shyster Estates: where laws are enforced by choice and they’ve got my money and now they’re taking off with it.”
A quick look at other signs adorning the front yard and windows shows Nelson and Bolling aren’t shy about broadcasting their feelings. The couple told 41 Action News their first home purchase has been anything but the “American Dream.”
Bolling and Nelson moved into the home in May, 2010. Almost immediately, they said they faced bills and insurance claims for plumbing problems, mechanical failures and water damage.
Bolling said he first tried to contact the builder. Unable to get a satisfactory response, he then visited Lone Jack City Hall and requested all documentation related to his home on South Gaar Street.
Bolling was surprised when he received the permits and inspection reports. Some of the documents were partially filled it. Some had discrepancies with dates. Others were completely blank.
“I was shocked,” Bolling said.
The home’s final inspection was dated two days after the “certificate of occupancy” had already been issued—the document that should come last in the process.
Bolling also claimed someone else signed some of the documents for the city inspector, James Nauser. On some of the documents, there is a signature that appears to be quickly written as “Jim”; other documents have a signature written in neat cursive as “James.”
County unaware homes existed
41 Action News reviewed documents for other homes in the neighborhood obtained through an open-records request and found a similar pattern: inspection documents either partially filled in or blank, along with different-looking signatures from Nauser.
41 Action News also learned Lone Jack officials had not notified Jackson County the homes had been built.
When Bolling and Nelson’s first tax bill arrived last year, it showed the market value of a vacant lot: $22,598.
“Jackson County had no idea there were any homes in this subdivision, whatsoever,” Bolling said.
One of the signs in Bolling and Nelson’s window asks, “Did everyone have fun paying back property taxes?”
Jackson County spokesman Dan Ferguson said the county typically finds out about new home construction when it receives copies of building permits from the municipality. In this case, Ferguson confirmed Jackson County did not find out about Bolling’s home until he contacted the county to inquire about the low market value.
41 Action News discovered that one of the homes in the neighborhood, constructed in 2008, is still listed with a market value of just over $22,000, according to Jackson County online tax records.
Finally, Lone Jack requires businesses to provide a letter of good standing from the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office prior to receiving a business license.
However, 41 Action News checked with the state and found the contractor, Boulevard Builders, has never existed as a registered business in Missouri.
“No one is holding them accountable,” Bolling said.
Extremely difficult to hold city liable for its employees
41 Action News shared the documents with University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor Julie Cheslik, an expert in local government.
Despite some of the concerns raised by the paperwork, Cheslik said it is extremely difficult to hold a city liable for the actions of its employees. When a municipality provides a government function like police protection or water service, it is legally covered by what is known as “sovereign immunity.”
“When the city acts to protect its citizens for the common good, it’s not insuring it will be successful every time,” Cheslik said.
Cheslik said the city inspection process provides minimal assurance to homeowners, but does not mean the city has created a duty to homeowners.
“My cause of action is against the builder,” she said. “Not the city for the minor process of issuing a permit or a certificate of occupancy.”
41 Action News repeatedly tried to contact the builder of homes in the Shiloh Estates subdivision, but never received any response.
Lawsuit threatened, city inspector fired
In October, 2010, Bolling sent a “letter of intent” to Lone Jack officials, but he has never filed a lawsuit in court.
When Bolling made the initial allegation, Lone Jack turned the claim over to its insurer,