(WSVN) - Surprises are great, unless they are bad news — and when you buy a house, then find out it was in a fire five years ago, that’s terrible. And then it got worse for one new South Florida homeowner, till she called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

They say buying a home is the American dream. Sometimes they are right.

Emilia Saintvil: “The floors were beautiful. The home looked brand-new, moving ready.”

And sometimes they are wrong.

Emilia Saintvil: “It was a first-time home buyer disaster. It’s a nightmare, actually.”

Emilia loved living in her newly purchased four-bedroom house … till she went to get a permit for a fence.

Emilia Saintvil: “And told me, ‘Did you know this house was on fire, was in a fire, 2014, five years ago?'”

The house looks nice now, but back in 2014, it was a charred mess — and Emilia was never told about all the work done to repair it.

Emilia Saintvil: “I was in total shock. I was like, ‘no.'”

Should there have been a record that the house was in a fire and repairs were made without permits? Howard, you wanna answer that?

Howard Finkelstein: “Yes. When a structure catches fire, the power is turned off, and Broward County opens a violation. The owner got the violation satisfied by boarding up the house. The mistake here? The power was then turned back on, and the county didn’t require permits to repair the house.”

A Broward County spokesperson said the permit to turn the power back on didn’t require looking into the history of the property. A fence permit does require reviewing the history.

That’s when an inspector noticed the fire that had happened — turning Emilia’s dream into a nightmare.

Emilia Saintvil: “The county told me that I need to get in contact, first of all, with an architect to draw a new blueprint of the house, and then get an electrical engineer, a structural engineer.”

In other words, tear the house apart. Emilia then tried to determine who was to blame for this, starting with the seller.

Emilia Saintvil: “I didn’t update this house. This house was already updated.”

She talked to the title company, who blamed Broward County.

Emilia Saintvil: “The county says it is in the system. County is blaming it on the title insurance, so it’s like going back and forth, and I’m stuck in the middle of it.”

Stuck in the middle after someone dropped the ball, leaving Emilia staring at an outrageous bill.

Emilia Saintvil: “I’m stuck with a $20,000, $30,000 bill I can’t come up with, and I can lose the home, and now Broward County is telling me they’re going to start fining me $50 a day until I clear it up.”

OK, Howard. Legally, how can Emilia turn this nightmare back into a dream home?

Howard Finkelstein: “First, work with the county to get the house up to code. And then sue: the seller, the title insurance company, the closing agent and the county. Let them fight it out to figure out who’s to blame.”

But now Emilia may not have to sue anyone, after good news from Broward County. They are working with Emilia because they know she is a victim here. They are not fining her and have lessened the requirements to satisfy the violation, which will then cut the cost for Emilia to clear everything up.

Emilia Saintvil: “The county is really working with me. I’m in a better position now. I truly appreciate it.”

That American dream that became a nightmare is finally becoming home sweet home.

Emilia Saintvil: “I’m happy I called Help Me Howard. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Glad things are getting better for Emilia, and we will stay in touch to help her work things out. And a suggestion: If you buy a house, of course, hire a good inspector and do a little digging yourself.

For example, when we looked at old real estate listings, we found a picture of the house Emilia bought with an “unsafe structure” sticker on it. If someone had told Emilia about that, it would have sent up a red flag.

Housing a problem that’s left you hot under the collar? Ready to construct a solution? Permit us to help, and see if we can light a fire under them.

Email: helpmehoward@wsvn.com
Reporter: Patrick Fraser at pfraser@wsvn.com
Miami-Dade: 305-953-WSVN
Broward: 954-761-WSVN

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