Modular Mess

July 10, 2008 12:23:13 PM PDT
As the housing market suffers, prefab homes are gaining in popularity. The houses, built in factories and shipped in sections, are supposed to be regulated by state government.

But if you've bought one of the factory-built homes and end up with problems, the I-Team has found that, in Illinois, you can end up with a modular mess.

Modular homes are built in large pieces, constructed inside enclosed warehouses so they aren't exposed to the elements. The pieces are then delivered to your home site and assembled on the spot.

Robert Kot thought that sounded like a good idea. But as the I-Team found, it quickly became a modular mess so bad that even 47 members of the Illinois General Assembly have not been able to help him.

Kot's dream home is now uninhabitable.

From the time Kot bought his modular house three years ago and had it put up in Algonquin, Kot says, the frame overhung the foundation, the roof line didn't meet and the house was bent.

"Picture a shoe box. If you twisted a shoe box, the whole structure of a shoe box twists even though you are only twisting one section of it. That is what I was dealing with," he said.

Kot is now suing the manufacturer, Liberty Homes, headquartered in northwest Indiana. Liberty denies any wrongdoing. The company's lawyer says they are investigating Kot's claims and are scheduled to depose Kot this week.

The home was reset on the foundation twice - by the manufacturer and by the dealer who sold him the home, Woodale Homes of Oregon, Illinois. Kot says it didn't help and showed the I-Team that it still overhangs the foundation and the roof peaks still don't meet.

"I don't believe that home met the code of Illinois or any other state in the country," said State Rep. Mike Tryon, (R)-Crystal Lake, Kot's state representative.

Tryon says this house should never have been sold in Illinois.

"The sewer pipe for the toilet went through the duct work for the heat and air conditioning. The plumbing didn't line up. They tried to straighten the house because it wasn't square and the dry wall was cracked and it was a mess," said Tryon.

So why then did the state government agency that regulates modular homes authorize a certified seal of approval?

"I believe the seal was fraudulently applied," said Tryon.

State law requires the Illinois Department of Public Health to approve modular home plans before a home is constructed. And in this case, the IDPH admits they didn't do that.

"It was constructed prior to the plans being approved in Illinois," said Justin DeWitt, IDPH.

Representative Tryon said he doesn't believe the IDPH did enough. So he sent the public health department unofficial resolutions, signed by 47 members of the house and senate, saying the department needs to enforce the state law.

"This is clearly a case of an individual who has been left to fend on his own in the civil court system for violations of a building code and inspection process that did not work," Tryon said.

"We reached out to the manufacturer and negotiated a settlement in which Mr. Kot's purchase price would have been returned to him for the home, and he flatly rejected that. He was seeking more than that," DeWitt said.

Woodale Homes, that actually put up the home, would not respond on camera. Their attorney told the I-Team that Woodale is not responsible for the state certification seal. Woodale has filed a countersuit against the manufacturer, alleging negligent building and supervision of Kot's home.

"Just like any lawsuit, everyone is blaming each other," Kot said.

Kot now lives in a 300-square foot extended stay hotel and says the $65,000 home he bought has cost him more than $300,000 and three years of frustration.

"You are messing with someone's life. This is a house that someone should be living in," he said.

Tryon is working with members of the legislature who have had manufactured housing complaints in their districts. They are writing a modular home lemon law and hope to introduce the bill in the next session.

In a statement Wednesday night, Liberty Homes says Robert Kot caused the damage to his own house by not allowing repair work to be completed.

For more information:
Robert Kot's Web site: www.verybadhome.com
Liberty Homes Inc. Web site: http://www.libertyhomesinc.com/about.php
Woodale Homes Inc. Web site: http://www.woodalehomes.com/
Illinois Department of Public Health Web site: http://www.idph.state.il.us/
IL State Representative Michael Tryon Web site: http://www.michaeltryon.com/

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