Two sides agree not to discuss details of settlement
Four years after county inspectors missed more than 40 code violations while approving the construction at Heather and Lee Henage’s home, the two sides settled in court.
“The parties agreed that the facts and terms of the settlement are confidential and shall not be disclosed to any persons not either employed by or affiliated with the parties,” county public information officer Brett Vines said.
State investigators found that Union County building inspectors missed more than 40 code violations when they signed off on the Henage home in 2008. There were no support piers under some of the home’s load-bearing walls, including portions of the second story. The exterior doors were not flashed, and the windows not properly installed, allowing water to get inside when it rained. The floors on the first floor were not balanced properly, the roof rafters were not tied to the ceiling joists and the house was not properly anchored to the foundation, among other issues.
After getting documentation of the incident, the Henages asked the Union County Inspection Department to acknowledge the issues in a re-inspection. The county re-inspected the Henage home on Nov. 3 and Dec. 1, 2009, sending out the same inspectors to check their own work and did not document any violations.
With no way to pay for needed repairs, the family sued Union County and the inspector, John Gregory Carehart, citing the numerous violations missed. Union County however claimed the family’s negligence caused the problems, hiring Charlotte-based Cranfill, Sumner and Hartzog to respond to the Henages in court.
In a list of questions sent to the family, county attorneys refer to the Better Business Bureau complaint filed by the Henages, where they mention “fixing mistakes” made by the builder during the period before the inspector signed off on the building.
The family said they worked on the cabinets, which was planned from the start because Lee Henage enjoys woodworking and had hoped to save the couple some money.
The Henages responded by saying the cosmetic work was done between January and July 2008, a year before Union County signed off on the house. They questioned why that would have prevented inspectors from missing code violations.
By now, none of the inspectors who were involved with the Henage case are employed by the county. Mike Carter was terminated July 2010 as part of the reduction in force that happened at that time. Residential Inspections Supervisor Barry Griffin also has left the department since then, retiring on Dec. 31. Inspector Greg Capehart turned in his license in August, before a state disciplinary hearing was to take place last September.
“I am pleased that the building inspectors involved are no longer employed by the inspections department,” Heather Henage said. “I think the county will stay out of my dispute with the builder and the second investigation by his licensing board, so I’ll leave them alone.”
In the end, Henage said, it’s still going to be a while before her family can start paying for the necessary repairs, currently estimated at $162,000.
“After attorney fees and engineers’ fees, I won’t be starting to fix the house anytime soon,” Henage said. “We’re still suing the builder and he is countersuing me for libel and slander.”
Two years after the Henage inspection, Union County made adjustments as to how inspections are handled. Now, both the supervisor and Building Inspections Director John Reavis meet individual inspections at one of their sites, chosen at random. They observe the inspection and discuss it with the inspector. They then go to a similar inspection site performed by the same inspector to make sure that inspections are being performed in the same way when the person is not being observed.
“If a defect in the inspection is noted then they would discuss that issue with the inspector,” Vines, with the county, said. “If they determine that changes need to be made to the inspection process they would inform all the inspectors of the needed change.”
If the observation finds any building code violations, the contractor is notified in a report.
The family said they just wished those safeguards had been in place four years ago so they wouldn’t have gone through all this.
“This has really been an eye-opening experience for me,” Henage said. “I didn’t realize the level of corruption in Union County government. I find it absurd that they refuse to back down time and time again, even when their stance is contrary to the facts of the matter.”