• Fri. Aug 5th, 2022

Builder sues NC couple with support group for ‘victims’

A couple who say their dream home in the mountains of North Carolina is riddled with holes and at risk of being demolished have decided to launch an email blast and a website to connect with other “victims allegedly from the custom builder who built it.

But the company said it looked more like a smear campaign.

Schumacher Homes of North Carolina and Regional Manager Richard Smothers sued the couple, Keith and Dianna Buchanan, for defamation in federal court last week. They also filed motions to stop the Buchanans from contacting potential clients and continuing to release information about Schumacher’s business operations while the case is ongoing.

Lawyers and a representative for Schumacher Homes declined to comment in a statement to McClatchy News on Friday.

Jake Snider from Asheville Legal, which represents the Buchanans, said they had their first hearing on Monday. He said a judge largely denied Schumacher’s requests, but asked the couple to stop coming into direct contact with the automaker’s customers.

Snider said his clients were willing to comply with this request.

“I can’t sell this house”

Schumacher Homes is “one of the largest builders of custom residential homes” in the United States, the company’s attorneys said in court filings. It is based in Ohio with “design studios” in Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and West Virginia.

According to the complaint, the Buchanans contracted with Schumacher in 2018 to build a customs house in McDowell County, about 100 miles northwest of Charlotte.

The house sits on a A 187-acre family farm that Keith Buchanan’s grandfather bought after returning from World War II, he told McClatchy News. It was a longtime dream he and his wife shared to build on the land.

But it didn’t take long after moving in to see there were problems, Keith Buchanan said.

According to a signed affidavit and other court documents filed Friday, structural engineers recently told the Buchanans that the home’s foundation violated building code and was “completely defective.”

As a result, said Keith Buchanan, there are cracks in the foundation and on the interior walls, the floors are sagging, several doors don’t open and close properly, and the molding is pulling away from the walls -” all signs that the structure of our home is shifting and sinking with the faulty foundation,” he said.

Keith Buchanan said they will likely have to tear down the house and rebuild it, resulting in more than $500,000 in damage.

“I can’t sell this house and move out and be done with it,” he told McClatchy News. “It was our dream for over 30 years and honestly I feel like it has been destroyed.”

According to Schumacher’s trial, the home was inspected several times by the McDowell County Building Inspection Department during construction and after completion. Schumacher also made sure to correct items on a “checklist” the Buchanans sent before moving in, company attorneys said.

When the Buchanans reported more problems after moving in, Schumacher reportedly sent a warranty representative.

But lawyers for the company said that person was denied access to the Buchanans’ home, “apparently because Thanksgiving was coming up.” The couple were later accused of refusing to engage with a warranty representative even after the holidays, which prevented the builder from remedying the problems.

Email campaign, “advocacy” website

According to the lawsuit, the Buchanans – still unhappy with the build – got their hands on Schumacher’s client list earlier this year and sent emails that “spread false and misleading information”.

The emails contained allegations that Schumacher does not keep a general contractor on construction sites, relies on ‘unskilled’ labour, uses substandard building materials and has been banned from building in certain neighborhoods – which is false, according to Schumacher’s lawyers.

But Keith Buchanan said he stands by those statements.

In the affidavit, he said he visited the original site several times while it was under construction and saw subcontractors that “lacks direction” without a Schumacher representative. He said some of those contractors “often didn’t know what to do or how to do their job.”

Keith Buchanan also said they were promised cherry wood for the cabinets but received particle board instead and some neighborhoods only work with certain approved builders due to issues with companies like Schumacher.

In addition to the email campaign, the Buchanans launched a website called “Schumacher Victims” which advertises itself as a “Site of the Paul Schumacher Homes victims advocacy group.

The website contains photos of homes built by Schumacher Homes and links to file a complaint with the North Carolina Licensing Board for General Contractors and the Carolina Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Division North.

It also connects to recent NC Licensing Board actions, Better Business Bureau complaints, and recent Yelp reviews.

Attorneys for Schumacher Homes stated that “the characterization of their website as an ‘advocacy group’ misleads the public by insinuating that there are many ‘victims’ of Schumacher Homes, Inc.” They said it was only created to further an “apparent vendetta” against the builder.

“It is clear that Defendants’ motive is not for the legitimate purpose of seeking redress for any alleged problems with their own home…and instead chose to encourage other customers not to do business with Plaintiffs,” the attorneys said in the complaint.

As a result, the Buchanans’ actions cost Schumacher significant business, the lawsuit says.

According to court documents, Keith Buchanan said the main purpose of the website was to “network” with other owners who had similar issues with Schumacher and “to make the world aware of the drastic shortcomings in Schumacher’s work. Schumacher so others can protect themselves.”

He said at least 10 other owners had contacted them about similar negative experiences with Schumacher and the BBB had received dozens of negative complaints about the builder.

“Between the terrible reviews from the BBB and the seemingly poor employee ratings, I don’t understand how Schumacher can single-handedly blame me for any lost business when his poor reputation is so widely publicized and available on the internet outside of my website,” Keith Buchanan says in the affidavit.

The lawsuit makes claims for declaratory judgment, commercial libel, tort interference, unfair and deceptive trade practices and civil conspiracy.

Schumacher Homes is asking the judge to declare the Buchanans’ claims were false. The company is also seeking damages and attorneys’ fees.

Hayley Fowler is a reporter for The Charlotte Observer, covering breaking news and real-time news across North and South Carolina. She holds a journalism degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and previously worked as a legal reporter in New York City before joining the Observer in 2019.