TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The Huggins family was excited about the big backyard in their newly-renovated home – and their Department of Veteran Affairs-backed loan made it affordable.
Jonah Huggins and his wife Patricia were also happy about the neighborhood church located across the street on East Osborne Avenue in Tampa.
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“We just wanted to live close to a church. We like to get involved with local programs, assuming they do outreach programs,” Huggins said. “We were expecting to come into this house with our new family.”
But four months after the closing, they still have not moved in after Huggins claims just about everyone involved with the transaction let down his family.
“Our game plan was to get married, go on our honeymoon. And come here and start our family and everything was going to be perfect,” Huggins said.
Far from perfect
One of the T’s to cross is a Florida standard. The wood-destroying organism (WDO) report that, in this case, indicated there were no visible signs of live or dead bugs.
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Joe’s Pest Control conducted the WDO inspection and signed the report, but owner Joe Mendoza was not willing to talk about it when questioned at his Thonotosassa home.
“No comment,” Mendoza said.
A short time after the closing, Huggins noticed visible damage in one of the ceilings and worse.
“After a couple days, termites just swarmed from everywhere,” Huggins said. “A termite inspection was completed and it said no termites.”
Huggins, an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, summed up his emotions after seeing the swarm.
“Rage,” he said. “Absolute rage.”
8 On Your Side would later discover Mendoza is not a licensed exterminator, prompting an investigation by the Florida Department of Agriculture. Mendoza was recently fined $9,000 by the agency.
“Too little too late,” Huggins said.
Laura Keyes, the realtor for property owner SDA Enterprises, LLC, requested the WDO inspection conducted by Mendoza, according to the report. Keyes has not responded to questions about whether she knew Mendoza was unlicensed.
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8 On Your Side also obtained another WDO inspection report conducted in January by a licensed exterminator that stated there was termite damage in the home.
Real estate records show a previous buyer backed out of an agreement to buy the East Osborne home shortly after the January WDO report was signed but no one involved with that pending sale was available for comment about why it fell through.
SDA Enterprises, LLC. owner Darlene Allen signed a disclosure that indicated there were no termites in the home and Huggins signed it as well in March.
Allen told 8 On Your Side she was unaware of the January WDO report, although she acknowledges her LLC did own the home at the time of that inspection. Allen also said she was unaware there was termite damage in the home.
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Huggins claims the home also had several other expensive, undisclosed issues that have cost him more than $30,000 but he says knowing the truth about the termites would’ve been enough for him to walk away from the deal.
“I would’ve never bought that if we knew the truth about the termites,” Huggins said. “There’s no telling how much damage is in the walls.”
Huggins has now filed a lawsuit alleging fraudulent non-disclosure against Allen and her LLC, and demanding the company buy the property back in what is known as rescission.
The filing also alleges Keyes and the brokerage firm she works for, Dalton Wade, were negligent.
Dalton Wade has not responded to requests for comment.
Huggins said the entire process has left him emotionally and financially drained.
“The process let us down,” Huggins said. “Someone lied.”
As far as who should’ve looked into Mendoza’s qualifications, VA spokesperson Joe Williams said the agency expects the lenders they work with to check on issues such as proper licensing.
“When a WDO is required, VA requires pest control operators meet state requirements,” Williams said.
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It is unknown if anyone checked Mendoza’s background, but the Florida Department of Agriculture shows no records available for Mendoza and he has since been cited for not having a pest control license. The process to run Mendoza through the state databases took about nine seconds.
According to state records, Mendoza was charged in 2018 with a second-degree misdemeanor for unlawful performance or advertisement for pest control services. The record indicates adjudication was withheld in that case.