MARIONÂ â€” Larry Carlson has vowed never to buy another house in Marion again.
He is still “shell shocked” more than three years after he and his wife purchased a $260,000 house just outside of Marion, a house that has since plummeted in value, barely worth an eighth of the price they paid for it in 2015.
“I will never buy another house in Marion ever. You don’t have any idea what you’re getting,” Carlson said. “It’s buyer beware.”
Carlson first realized there was something wrong with the Chaucer CourtÂ house afterÂ he hired a contractor to remodel the kitchen of their new home.
He remembers getting a call from the contractor while at work.
“You need to get here immediately,” Carlson recalls him saying.
What they found behind the kitchen cabinets andÂ drywall, he believes could have been prevented if there had been a local building code.
While neither the city nor the county has its own building code for new houses and additions, the state does. All one, two and three-family dwellings are required to be builtÂ to that state code, according to Steven Regoli, of the Ohio Board of Building Standards. The same goes for any housing additions and certain alterations to already existing one, two and three-family dwellings.
However, enforcement is the responsibility of cities, townships and counties, not the state.Â And under state law, if cities don’t want to enforce the code, they don’t have to.
MarionÂ does not enforce state residential building codes and is one of the few cities its size without a building department to carry out that enforcement.Â
In fact, of the 100 most populous Ohio cities, only three do not have a residential building department: Athens, Findlay and Marion, according to a list from the Ohio Board of Building Standards. It is less common for counties of Marion’s size to have their own building departments.
Presently, the only kinds of permits that homebuildersÂ â€” whether of new houses, housing additions, decks, fences, garages or shedsÂ â€” generally must obtain in the City of MarionÂ are a zoning permit and, if there is any plumbing involved, a plumbing permit from the health department.
The cloud of the city’s last encounter with a local building code still hangs over the debate.Â When asked whether the city has consideredÂ enforcingÂ the state’s building code, Marion Mayor Scott Schertzer pointed to the November 2000 election.
“The voters spoke, and they spoke rather loud and clear. That wasn’t a close vote in 2000,” he said, referring to the overwhelming defeat of the city/county building code at the ballot box that year.
That building code was only in effect for less than two years, in 1999 and 2000. Opponents of the code circulated petitions to put the question of whether to repeal the code on the ballot.
In the end, 61.4 percent votedÂ to repeal it.
At that time, there was no statewide residential building code, and if a city wanted a residential building code, it had to come up with its own.
However, that changed in 2004Â when the Ohio General Assembly passed a bill requiring the Board of Building Standards to adopt a statewide code for single-family and other homes.
When asked about the possibility of revisiting building code enforcement, Schertzer said he hasn’t seen a “groundswell” of people asking for that.
“The groundswell is not there for my constituencies that I represent, enough of them saying that we should do that,” he said. “I’d be interested to hear the discussion take place in a (Marion City) Council committee. … I would work with them, but I would want to hear the testimony of our public first in a council committee to see whether it’s warranted or not.”
Carlson and the contractor he hired to redo his kitchen, Paul Anderson, believeÂ a building code would have prevented the failures found in theÂ house.
What they found behind the kitchen cabinets and drywall that day were deteriorating studs.
“They were gone. It was almost like they had never been there, and the ones that were left, you could shred with your fingertips,” he said.
Not long after, a structural engineer told Carlson the house was structurally unsound, he recalled, and that they needed to leave.
Subsequent engineers and consultants found rotting framing and wall sheathing throughout the house, extensive moisture and several kinds of mold, which all seemed toÂ have been caused by misapplication of the house’s synthetic stucco, according to Carlson and to court documents.
Ten months was as long as the Carlsons lived there, he said, but the house’s specter would follow them for longer.
Carlson didn’t live in the city limits, but townships and counties also have the option to enforce the state’s residential code.
Kerr Murray, president of the Marion County Commissioners, said he would take a look at the existing codes with the county prosecutor’s office and see if there was anything the county needed to implement.
“If there’d been a code, that house would’ve never been in the state that it was in,” said Anderson, of Anderson’s Home Improvement.
He pointed to countiesÂ like DelawareÂ that enforce building codes, saying that in those counties,Â there would have been an insulation inspection that could have caught the problems with Carlson’s house.Â
In counties with code enforcement, building officials review and approve construction plans submitted to their office,Â conduct periodic inspections throughout the construction and recommend changes if something is out of compliance.
“There is an accountability to somebody to show that you are doing what the application said you are doing,” Anderson said. “Is it properly framed? Is the wiring up to code?”
Bryan White, a local general contractor, agreed. In his work on residential buildings, he has come acrossÂ houses not built to code, where builders used the wrong size of floor joists, leading the floor to sag.
“The biggest issue is the homeowners donâ€™t know whatâ€™s right and whatâ€™s not. Theyâ€™re at the mercy ofÂ the builder. If the builder’s not following it, they don’t know,” he said.
White is in favor of enforcing theÂ code here. On top of the benefits for the homeowner, he said, he expects it would level the playing field when bidding on a job against builders that otherwise wouldn’t have followed the code.
But not all builders feel the same way.
Marion City Councilman Josh Daniels, also a local builder who back in 1999 helped organize the opposition to the localÂ building code, contended that there isn’t enough building in the city limits to justify a building department.
According to Malcolm Smith, the city’s zoning inspector, the city issued a total of 252 residential zoning permits last year. A little over a third of those were for fences; 10 were for new homes,Â 11 for additions and 23 for sheds,Â according to Smith’s records.
Daniels suggested that if the city wanted to give homeowners more protection, it could license contractors and require that they be insured and bonded.
Daniels also expressed concern forÂ homeowners who do their own home improvement projects, something that had been a concern during the debate over the local building code in 2000.
“A lot of homeowners want to do the work on the weekends, but if you don’t have an available inspector, you can’t tear a roof off on a Saturday and wait ’til a Monday for the inspector to come by and check your tar paper,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Carlsons areÂ still dealing with the repercussions of a house that they have not lived in for two and a half years.
They still owed a little over $200,000 on the house when it was appraised on three different occasions at around $30,000, he said. TheÂ bank agreed to a short sale, and in March 2017,Â it sold for nearly $40,000, according to the Marion County Auditor’s Office.
The Carlsons’ credit was dinged, he said, and they are not allowed to buy a house for three years.
They recently won an out-of-court settlement against the previous owners of the house, but not enough to recoup all their losses, according to court records.
“It almost destroyed us. We were trying to make a mortgage payment, kids in college, rent. We were paying double bills on everything,” Carlson said of the year before the short sale.
Now that the court case is over, they are trying to move on, he said. One day, they might try to buy a house again, but this time, it won’t be in Marion.
Tweet me @SarahVolp
Read or Share this story: https://ohne.ws/2pvfUFC