Some of my more gut-wrenching Chronicle stories took place during boom times.
These were about people who paid builders tens of thousands of dollars for their new homes, only to learn they were on the hook because builders didn’t pay subcontractors or suppliers.
They were not common stories. Most builders are respected business owners who know what they’re doing.
Occasionally, though, we’d run into builders who found themselves over-extended and were taking money from one job to pay bills on another job. Eventually that stuff catches up.
Florida law says the homeowner has the civil liability in a contract to make sure all bills are paid. If I pay the builder but he doesn’t pay the roofer, guess what? I’m paying the builder and the roofer.
These victims always felt like fools. Here they are, paying $100,000 or more for their new homes, falling for lies and delays by the builders they trusted.
Those were terrible stories indeed, but they don’t hold a candle to Inverness Villages Unit 4, where the builder is signing up unsuspecting customers left and right knowing there’s little the county government will do about it.
The background is complicated and you can read more if interested. The simple version is that the dirt roads in IV 4 were put in by a long-ago developer and “accepted” for county ownership by a long-ago county commission.
Accepted doesn’t mean maintained, though. The county has a court ruling that it’ll roll out to anyone who asks stating the county isn’t responsible for the roads.
This is a somewhat orphan community. There is no developer in the strict sense that one company oversees lot development, stormwater, roads, that sort of thing.
There is one company — DT Villages Investment LLC, which owns most if not all the vacant lots and is building homes at an aggressive rate.
DT Villages is familiar to the county. Its owner, Antonius Van Usen, went toe-to-toe with neighbors and the county on a street south and west of Floral City over an illegally erected sign and other code violations.
Week after week exasperated residents showed up at county commission meetings begging the county to do something. “These things take time,” they were told time and again.
The county eventually removed the offending fence — and neighbors were back the next week with more allegations of Van Usen wrongdoing.
Now he’s building houses in a development on dirt roads that turn into a muddy mess in the summer. The Southwest Florida Water Management District — we call it Swiftmud — won’t issue permits to Van Usen for stormwater. The county, inexplicably, continues to give Van Usen permits to build houses because it says it can’t hold up a permit because another agency hasn’t yet issued one.
The county talked about an assessment for homeowners to pay to pave the roads. That would normally run around $8,000 per homeowner. Great, but now the county says it’ll need drainage and with Van Usen building homes on every available lot, the county may end up buying lots with homes on them for drainage pits.
Now homeowners are hearing costs of up to $100,000 EACH just to get these streets paved.
I spoke with Commissioner Holly Davis about this Monday and she’s frustrated. Every turn, it’s a wall. My suggestion — simply stop issuing building permits to Van Usen — was met with a firm no-can-do.
The county’s going to try to get a firm handle on the real costs and present them to homeowners for a thumbs up or thumbs down. That’s all the commissioners can really do at this point.
Driving through Inverness Villages on Monday someone had taped up a warning on their garage door. A house is being built directly across the street.
I ran across a resident who’s lived in IV 4 for a few months.
“Didn’t you notice the condition of the streets?” I asked him.
He said the builder promised the roads would soon be paved and it would cost each homeowner about $5,000. The man said he didn’t realize it was all a pack of nonsense until moving in and seeing the research others have done.
These stories are heartbreaking and they make me angry. I don’t like it when the unsuspecting are taken advantage of, especially if they’re newcomers to our community. Because that is not what we’re about.
But I will say this: For the love of common sense, don’t buy a home without visiting the site. Talk with the neighbors. Google the developer’s name and see what comes up.
I know you’re eager to move to Citrus County. Just be smart about it.
Join the discussion on our Facebook page.
Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.