TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Mary Browning made a living as a cake decorator but was still able to scrimp enough to pay off a mortgage, sell her property and use the profit to pay for what she thought would be her dream home.
“I probably decorated a thousand cakes,” Browning said.
Browning signed a contract with Hopps Construction in Nov. 2018, agreeing to pay the company $165,000. The agreement stated “the contractor shall substantially complete the work no later than 120 days from” the date the plans were approved by the City of Tampa.
It’s now been 1,274 days.
“I still don’t have a date,” Browning said. “She just kept putting me off. ‘Someone is going to go there today. Somebody’s going to go there tomorrow.’ This is three and half years later.”
Victoria Hopps, the owner of Hopps Construction, blames the delay on “problems” with the city permitting process. According to a city spokesperson, the initial permit was issued June 16, 2019, and the main slab was poured three months later.
Hopps also claims Browning’s request to add a 500 square-foot room to the back of the home slowed the build.
“She stopped the construction when she asked for a revision. I didn’t stop the construction,” Hopps said.
But Browning’s complaints are not just about lost time. Forty-two months since the contract was signed and there’s no landscaping outside and no kitchen, lighting or flooring inside.
Browning said there are also problems with what is built. She claims there are gaps in the windows and doors, and the front of the home does not match the plans. She also said the slab is cracked and not level, even though, according to the city, it was inspected.
Hopps said her crews have worked on repairing the slab and other shortcomings.
“We have a punch list,” Hopps said. “But I need more money from her to finish this.”
The walls and ceilings are drywalled and painted but a city spokesperson said the wood framing underneath was never inspected.
“I think in the rush of doing it, I forgot to put that in,” Hopps said.
According to the city, the building department was not contacted to inspect the slab in the 500 square-foot backroom where the floor in the closet goes downhill.
“To me it wasn’t a huge dip,” Hopps said. “I’ll check that when I go back.”
The slant is significant enough that a golf ball placed near the door of the closet rolls on its own to the back wall.
Since 8 on Your Side started making calls, the city has opened an investigation and Browning has filed a complaint with the Florida Department Business and Professional Regulation.
Hopps has filed her own legal counter punch with a lawsuit that states she recorded a nearly $91,000 lien on the property. Hopps said she is owed money for revisions, including the back room.
“I get up every day and go to work. I work hard and I have to bring my check home to finish her house,” Hopps said. “That’s not fair to me. That’s not fair to my kids.”
Browning claims she had an oral agreement with Hopps to pay for the HVAC and electrical work in exchange for the cost of the revisions. Hopps denies she made that agreement.
Browning said she remains hopeful she will someday be able to move into the home, but she has no idea how long it will take to untangle the legal mess, the construction issues and the lack of inspections on the framing and the back slab.
“It’s not right,” Browning said.
According to the city, Hobbs needs to expose enough of the framing for an inspector to examine it or get a third-party engineer to confirm it was built to code. The section of the slab that tilts downhill also would have to be brought up to code and inspected.
Browning said she has talked with other contractors and community members about what she should do next, but her patience is evaporating.
“After three and a half years, I’ve been waiting for this house to be finished,” Browning said. “Nothing in this house is complete. And the work that is done? You saw it.”
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