SILER CITY — A big home, 10 acres of land and a space to call their own. The Muehlbachs thought their investment in the home off of Pleasant Hill Church Road was their own slice of the American dream.
Instead, it’s cost them their life savings, and the living conditions have been deemed unsafe.
Jake Muehlbach says he and his family did everything right. Yet, the home now has more than 30 building code violations and multiple estimates say repairing the home would cost upward of $450,000. Private contractors have also said the family would be better off tearing the home down and rebuilding it than repairing it, which they say would cost about $750,000 according to reports sent to the Muehlbachs.
The family blames the builder, Lindley Builders Inc., for the continuous issues since construction began three years ago. Fault also lies on former Chatham County Building Inspector Daniel Gunter who was later relieved of his duties by the county and had his certifications blocked by the N.C. Building Inspectors Association. Gunter missed each of these code violations in his reports on the Muehlbach’s home.
“We’re out of options,” Jake said. “There were issues throughout the build, but everything passed inspections. It doesn’t add up.”
Walking around the home, the issues are hard to miss. Bowed flooring, cracked drywall, and gaps in the masonry are evident around every corner. Muehlbach said once he found one problem, others started appearing the closer he looked.
He gave the News + Record a tour of the home pointing out the issues. By now, he said he’s given the same spiel dozens of times to other media members, private inspectors, county employees, lawyers and more. His two young daughters, Hanna and Taylor, know the drill. They grab a leveler when their dad walks in the kitchen because they know he’s about to show off the uneven flooring. They point out a cracked beam their father temporarily forgot to mention.
“This has definitely taken a mental toll on our family,” his wife, Anita Muehlbach said. “We spend so much time thinking about the safety of our home, and researching the building codes and trying to find lawyers. It’s just exhausting.”
Jake said even when the family tries to get away from it all with an outing together, he finds his mind is preoccupied with anxiety over the future of his home and his family. He said several times, he’s stayed up into the early morning hours to sift through building codes. At one point, he even made his attorney a 232-slide presentation laying out all the issues he’s dealt with in the home.
The constantly creaky floorboards and inadequate structure have also rendered the upstairs bathroom near the girls’ bedroom unusable. Parts of the home also have misaligned doors, due to the slanted floor foundation. The front closet door is currently held together with a rope and carabiner because it doesn’t latch shut.
“Brand new house and it’s literally held together with string,” Muehlbach said as he passed the door.
The family has reached out to the county to assist with the issue, but those conversations have also yielded limited results. Earlier this year, the Muehlbachs filed a suit involving Lindley Builders and the county for the damages, but the county was granted governmental immunity in the case.
Governmental immunity applies to local governments across the state in civil suits, meaning they were not held accountable for the case.
In emails between Muehlbach and county officials, he says an email from the County’s Director of Permitting and Inspections, David Camp, was accidentally forwarded to him.
"The framing issues appear to be fairly serious and this was done recently,” the accidentally forwarded email said. “Obviously be careful of anything you say to the homeowner."
In a screenshot of another email, Camp said " keeps asking if his home is safe – what I can do is write him back and state as of the date that Larry investigated his home that he did not feel his home was unsafe — meaning that failure was not considered imminent or extremely likely to occur soon (weeks). I would also add that his home is likely to become unsafe prior to the expected useful age of the structure if the structural repairs are not done."
Muehlbach said he wants a proper investigation into Camp’s employment and his role in the inspections process. Camp’s role is overseen by the Chatham County Manager’s Office.
“While we greatly empathize with the Muehlbach family and what they have endured in this situation, the N.C. Courts found that Chatham County is not legally responsible,” said Chatham County Manager Dan LaMontagne in a statement. “Therefore, dismissed the county from the lawsuit. The Courts ultimately ruled in favor of the Muehlbachs against Lindley Builders, Inc."
LaMontagne said Chatham County Central Permitting and Inspections responds to and investigates any complaint from an occupant/owner within a year of occupancy. He said this was the case for the Muehlbach residence.
“We have not received any additional complaints about the inspections by the employee involved, who has not been employed by Chatham County since September 2021,” LaMontagne told the News + Record. “The Central Permitting and Inspections Department strives to ensure that qualified, State certified, staff are inspecting buildings in Chatham County.”
In the case, a judge ruled in favor of the Muehlbachs and awarded them $225,000. The judge determined the builder breached its contract and warranty. That money, however, has still not been paid to the family by Lindley Builders. Lindley Builders did not respond to requests for comment via email by publication.
Since the ruling, Lindley Builders has closed its business operations, and The Chatham County Sheriff’s Office is seeking property to seize to satisfy the judgment, but could not recover any assets in the Lindley Builders Inc name.
Jake Muehlbach said even if they were given the money awarded by the judge, it still covers less than half of the damages his family has incurred in the process. With a combination of the previous estimates for rebuilding the home, legal fees, hiring private inspectors and contractors, Muehlbach estimates he’s easily spent upward of $80,000 on attempting to get justice.
“Why weren’t we protected by the county?” Jake said. “There were so many opportunities, but they approved every inspection, waited until after we were living here, and now it's too late to do anything.”
The Muehlbachs have also filed a complaint with the North Carolina Licensing Board for General Contractors. The board will hold a hearing about this incident later this year.
Several people have suggested the family file through the N.C. Homeowners Recovery Fund, which provides compensation “which resulted from the dishonest or incompetent conduct of a licensed general contractor, or an unlicensed contractor who fraudulently represented himself or herself as being licensed.”
Claims can be made for up to 10% of the total Recovery Fund balance. The current balance, however, is only about $600,000. This means the Muehlbachs would only be eligible for up to $60,000, which would not even cover the legal fees the family paid through this process.
“I went through the whole system, all these steps, all these safeguards in place, and now I’m at the end of my chain,” Jake said.
The family said they are unsure of what they will do next, which is why they’ve turned to sharing their story as widely as possible in hopes of finding options. Jake Muehlbach said the lack of support and assistance from the legal system caused him to take his story to the court of public opinion.
“It shouldn’t be on us to pack up and move,” Muehlbach said. “The county and everyone else needs to be held accountable for the destruction they’ve caused me and my family.”
In May, Muehlbach uploaded a 16-minute video detailing the injustices his family has faced. To date, the video has more than 20,000 views on YouTube. He’s also uploaded snippets to other social media platforms, leading to hundreds of comments. Those messages have expressed shock and sympathy for the family.
“Absolutely insane. And still has to pay property taxes. THAT is a slap in the face,” one commenter wrote. “This is absolutely insane,” wrote another.
Since his story has gone public, Muehlbach said he still has not heard directly from the county or Lindley Builders.
The positive public response caused Anita and a family friend to start a GoFundMe to recoup some of the costs of repairs.
Jake Muehlbach said he hopes spreading his story can prevent similar issues from happening elsewhere in the county in the future.
Correction: The original version of this story contained a typographical error that misnamed the Muehlbach's daughter, Hanna. The original story also indicated the family spent $500,000; they have spent $80,000. The News + Record apologizes for these errors.
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