TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – An arson investigation involving two fires set in a home that was the focus of a contractor complaint is now “inactive,” leaving the homeowner angry and flustered.
Tampa arson investigators were called to East Caracas Street in early May after fires were discovered in the garage and in a closet in a back room of the home that has been under construction for years.
Three months later a Tampa police report indicates the case is “inactive pending any future developed leads.”
Homeowner Mary Browning is surprised the case has not been solved.
“It’s very disturbing. There were only so many keys out there. Four.” Browning said. “The house was not broken into. So, somebody had the key to come in.”
Browning raised her family as a cake decorator, frosting countless treats and saving her nickels and dimes to build what she thought would be her dream home.
“Yes,” Browning said. “[It was] my life savings.”
Browning signed a contract in late 2018, agreeing to pay $165,000 to Hopps Construction with an expected move-in date in early 2019.
Nearly four years later, Browning is still waiting and disappointed with the craftsmanship, including cracks in the slab and a distinct slope in the back room floor that is steep enough for a golf ball to roll without a push.
Victoria Hopps acknowledged some of the construction issues but has blamed the years of delays on the city permitting process and Browning’s requested changes to the plans.
“She stopped the construction when she asked for a revision,” Hopps said in May. “I didn’t stop the construction.”
Browning blames Hopps and has filed a complaint against her with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR), the agency that licenses contractors.
“I’m very angry about it but some things you have no control over,” Browning said. “I really want to move into my home that I paid for and I worked hard for.”
Browning’s complaint against Hopps remains open, according to DBPR investigators, who arrived the day after the fires.
After our first report, city leaders and others made initial offers to help Browning, but so far no one has followed through.
“That’s heartbreaking because it’s supposed to go to the people in need in East Tampa. And I’m one of them,” Browning said. “I’m 70 years old. I don’t have any more money saved up. I really need the help.”
Browning said she is not sure how much it will cost to finish the home that still needs flooring, a kitchen, plumbing and electrical work.
Hopps is no longer the contractor of record.
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