headphones beats by dre Two women file suit against Habitat for Humanity MidOhio
Alissa Widman Neese The Columbus Dispatch
They hadn’t yet made a mortgage payment and in just 90 minutes their new homes in Newark were reduced to charred piles of rubble.
Nearly two years later, Natalie Hosom, 36, and Brittany Park, 27, remain in a financial dispute with Columbus based Habit for Humanity MidOhio because the women are still on the hook for mortgages owed for their destroyed Parker Avenue homes.
The two former homeowners and their children filed a lawsuit Monday in Franklin County Common Pleas Court, claiming Habitat for Humanity MidOhio refuses to honor a warranty that should pay for a replacement home because allegedly shoddy electrical work in a front porch light sparked a fire.
Also named as defendants are Habitat for Humanity Michigan Fund, the loan servicer; State Farm Fire and Casualty, which insured Hosom’s home; Pekin Insurance, which insured Park’s home; and five “John Doe” individuals or entities who the plaintiffs claim are or may be liable in this case.
The blaze occurred the night Hosom moved in, Jan. 30, 2016, and spread to Park’s residence next door, where she had been living about a week. The smoke detectors in Park’s home didn’t work because of water damage, she said.
“They didn’t build us safe homes,” Park said. “They built us nightmares.”
Nobody was injured in either home. A Newark Fire Department report states the fire originated on the front porch but the cause is undetermined due to lack of evidence, Chief Patrick Connor said.
Insurance companies also brought inspectors out.
A private fire inspector hired by the plaintiffs said it’s likely the fire was caused by electricity but couldn’t determine its exact cause because previous inspectors removed most of the electrical components from Hosom’s home.
The two women allege in the lawsuit that the charity collected donations for a “Phoenix Fund” in their names and used some of that money to pay outstanding mortgage payments owed to Habitat duping donors into paying the charity instead of donating to them directly. The online donation page amassed more than $50,000 in contributions, the lawsuit states, and it has since been replaced with a page to donate directly to Habitat for Humanity MidOhio.
The lawsuit says about $12,000 was spent so the charity could “pay itself.”
Eventually, the women say they were told in an email that the mortgage and escrow payments made through the fundraising would have to be repaid by them.
The lawsuit filed Monday asks for forgiveness of the two mortgages, compensatory damages exceeding $25,000 and other damages, court costs and any funds Habitat unjustly retained from the women.
Habitat for Humanity doesn’t donate homes to families, but instead provides them with a no interest mortgage after they attend financial literacy classes and work on the homebuilding project with volunteers. Electriclal, plumbing and other trade work is performed by contractors hired by Habitat. Thomas, CEO of Habitat for Humanity MidOhio and also a defendant, says he offered to rebuild the two homes using insurance money and transfer the mortgages.
Hosom and Park told The Dispatch they declined the offer due to safety concerns.
The warranty referenced in the lawsuit covers defective things inside a home but not an entire home replacement, Thomas said. That’s the purpose of homeowner’s insurance, he said.
Habitat for Humanity MidOhio has built more than 400 homes in its 30 years and has never experienced a fire, Thomas said.
“Our folks pour their heart and soul into the construction of these homes,” he said. “We’re surprised and saddened not so much by the lawsuit, but that these two haven’t worked with us to help them get back into the homes we wanted them to have in the first place.”
Ultimately, Hosom and Park said they filed the lawsuit in Franklin County because they want to hold the organization accountable.
“We lost everything we had,” Hosom said. “We’re moving forward, but we just don’t want this tragedy to happen to any other family.”