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Misplaced Home: LeBaron Homes in Twin Falls faces $500,000 lawsuit after house dispute

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TWIN FALLS • Lance LeBaron built a house 11 inches from the site of a future road, then sold the home for $500,000.

When the buyers, Lee Ann and Rocky Hagan, learned about the problem, they wrote to LeBaron asking for their money back.

The Hagans told the Times-News they didn’t get a response, so they filed suit last November. LeBaron said in an interview that he didn’t realize his mistake until after he sold the house, and then the Hagans refused his offer to solve the problem.

Depositions, city documents, emails and interviews clarify some facts in the case but also pit one side’s word against the other.

What’s certain: LeBaron violated Twin Falls County and city codes requiring that the house be built at least 30 feet from a roadway. And a bridge builder told LeBaron that the house was too close to the road before the house sold. In a deposition, LeBaron said he didn’t believe him.

In 2009, LeBaron had contractors build the 3,240-square-foot, four-bedroom, 2½-bath in the Wildrose subdivision, near Shoshone Falls. The house was showcased in Parade of Homes, a tour of some of the Magic Valley’s best builds.

Twin Falls officials approved the house plans on all levels, said Mitch Humble, who oversees building permits as the city’s community development director.

The plan, with all requirements checked off by city officials, was given to LeBaron. It illustrated the required 30-foot setbacks, Humble said.

LeBaron hired Cowboy Concrete of Twin Falls to pour the foundation. One of the final steps in the city’s approval process is to send an inspector to ensure that the foundation is legitimate. When the inspector deemed the foundation fit, no one realized it was about 30 feet from its approved site, Humble said.

“It slipped past the inspector, it slipped past Lance, it slipped past everyone involved,” he told the Times-News. “The city issued the permit with the correct information, and he put the home in the wrong place.”

Humble said that in his seven years with the city, he has never seen a house built so far from what was planned.

“We don’t have this exact situation very often when there’s a right-of-way given but the road’s not built,” he said. “We could have caught it and fixed it very early on, but it slipped through the cracks. There’s no question we should have caught it, but it’s the builder that put it in the wrong place.”

LeBaron said he had built the house for himself and lived in it until he decided it was too big, and he wanted a better volleyball court.

He listed it for sale in the summer of 2012. Then, LeBaron said, neighbor Robert Dickerson, a retired bridge builder, told him the house was 11 inches from the site for a new road.

“I didn’t believe it first of all because the city signed it off, the landscaper found the same pin, my excavator found the same pin, everybody found the same pin, why would I believe anything other than that? That’s who we paid the big bucks to do, we had professionals doing it,” LeBaron said in a court deposition March 26.

Life Savings

The Hagans said they worked most of their lives — Rocky as a crop farmer, Lee Ann as a political science teacher at the College of Southern Idaho — and lived modestly, saving money so they could retire early and move into their dream home.

“We have seven grandkids, and we’d like to have them all there for Christmas,” Rocky said. “We don’t have the room in our house right now to be comfortable doing this. In this (LeBaron) house, we would have had room to do it.”

They said they had looked at about 40 homes for sale before making an offer on LeBaron’s house on Aug. 24, 2012.

The Hagans said they closed the house deal Oct. 1, paying LeBaron $300,000 cash, the bulk of their life savings.

Lee Ann said they had spent about $20,000 on furniture and landscaping when the neighbor, Dickerson, told her she was planting a tree out front where a road was going to be built.

EHM Engineers surveyed the property and confirmed his statement, she said.

LeBaron said he got a call from Lee Ann, who had learned about the roadway and wanted an explanation.

Looking for a Solution

LeBaron said he was still living in the house and offered to pay the Hagans’ rent until the problem was solved.

“Before I moved out, I said, ‘You want me to just stay here until we have the problem resolved? Because it’s easy. I haven’t moved out yet; I can take the house back, I don’t need to sell the house, I can afford the house.’”

He said the Hagans insisted on moving in and said they would be OK as long as LeBaron could arrange for the road not to be built.

Lee Ann said LeBaron told her he could have the road vacated in two weeks, but she checked with the city and learned it would take at least four months.

“That’s when we mailed Lance the letter asking for our money back,” she said. “We didn’t hear anything from him. …We found out that he actually didn’t file the paperwork (to vacate the road) until Jan. 4. And here we are, 10 months later, without a solution.”

Jan. 4 was the day the paperwork was submitted, confirmed Renee Carraway, the city’s planning and zoning manager.

LeBaron’s attorney, Jeff Stoker, confirmed that the Hagans sent a letter asking LeBaron to rescind the deal. The couple said they never received a response.

LeBaron, meanwhile, said that because the Hagans had indicated they would be OK, he used the money from the sale to buy another house.

“I had everything taken out of the (Wildrose) house,” he said in an interview. “I moved out of the house, repainted the house, got the floors clean, replaced the carpeting, all the stuff she asked me to do. I’m out of the house and we’re still in the process of getting the road vacated, which I told her, ‘It’s a process. I don’t know much about it. I’ll do everything I can to get it done.’

“I take off to Cambodia. I’m gone for like three or four days, I make a call to check into my office. They’re sending me papers from their attorney to sue me to take the house back. C’mon, are you freaking kidding me?”

Dream House Turned Nightmare

Lee Ann said they chose not to move into the house for fear they couldn’t sell it if the road isn’t vacated.

“We were told if the road’s not vacated, the house has to come down,” she said. “… We don’t want (LeBaron) to say that we did any damage on the inside. We don’t even go in unless there’s somebody with us to see it so he can’t say we did any damage. We want to give the house back in the same condition that he sold it. We just want our money back. He can fix the problem and sell the house.”

The Hagans say they have spent many sleepless nights worrying.

“This is just a nightmare,” Rocky said. “What do you think I feel like? This has been eight, nine months now, and this is the last thing I think about every night and the first thing I think about every morning. We’ve got this damn mess over here, and there’s no end in sight. As far as I’m concerned, we didn’t do anything wrong. We had the Realtor, the builder, the appraiser, the title company and the city, none of them, as far as I’m concerned, did their job and then left us holding the bag. It’s terrible.”

On July 3, the city and highway district approved the request to vacate the road. LeBaron would have to give the district land to build a different roadway, highway officials said in the public hearing.

What’s Next?

Twin Falls County commissioners now must give the final approval.

“Generally speaking, in lots of these cases, you don’t have any public comment on a plat. Nobody cares,” Commissioner Terry Kramer said.

But at least one neighbor in Wildrose told the Times-News he might take legal action if LeBaron vacates the road.

Others fear a new road could encroach near their homes and reduce their property values.

Kramer said it’s “extremely rare” to have public outcry at a hearing on vacating a road, but it could happen in this case. He’s waiting for a highway district recommendation before the hearing date can be set.

The Hagans quoted Realtors as telling them a roadway near a property devalues it by 25 percent. That’s only an assumption, said County Assessor Gary Bowden. Roads usually don’t devalue property unless they are busy, which isn’t the case for the Wildrose subdivision, he said.

Whether the county vacates the road will be a huge factor in the judge’s ruling on the lawsuit, said Stoker, the builder’s attorney. Only a judge can decide whether LeBaron knew about the mistake before he sold the house, he said.

Stoker said he will ask that the Aug. 27 court date be delayed until after the county decides on the road.

Even if the road is vacated, Rocky said, the Hagans will fight until they get their money back.

“The real problem we have now,” he said, “here’s Lance LeBaron that did something knowingly wrong by selling us this house and not identifying the property, not disclosing to us that there was a problem with the property. Now to make it right he’s going to vacate that road, move it on and affect someone else and Lance is not affected. That’s not right. Why should (the neighbors) and us have to lose value on our properties because of Lance’s mistake?”

LeBaron said he didn’t believe Dickerson, so he really didn’t know about the road problem before he sold the house. He said the Hagans want to renege because of “buyer’s remorse.”

“I’m a very honest person,” LeBaron said. “I have a business here; I would never hurt anybody. I would have paid the rent. I would have even bought it (the house) back and gotten it (the road) vacated. I had no issue with that. Until they told me to move out.

“I’ve been doing this forever. They just made it horrible. ... Mistakes were made by people. I’m doing the best I can to get the problem corrected, and they’re suing for I have no idea what besides they have buyer’s remorse.”

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