Buyers sue ‘Windy City Rehab’ stars for fraud, say $1.36M home is plagued by problems
A lawsuit filed by couple who bought Lincoln Square home says the luxury rehab leaked the day after the sale closed —and then things got even worse.
A Chicago couple who bought a $1.36 million home featured on the HGTV reality show “Windy City Rehab” is suing to try to force the show’s hosts to take back the house, which they say is plagued by leaks and shoddy work.
According to the lawsuit, the day after the buyers closed on the 4,000-square-foot luxury home in Lincoln Square, an upper-floor shower leaked gallons of water into the kitchen ceiling below.
And things only got worse, the suit says, with a leaky roof, poorly installed windows and other issues.
James and Anna Morrissey filed the lawsuit Dec. 30 in Cook County circuit court, citing defective and shoddy work, breach of contract, breach of warranty and consumer fraud.
The suit names TV hosts Alison Gramenos (who goes by Alison Victoria) and Donovan Eckhardt as defendants, along with Eckhardt’s Greymark Development Group,Alison Victoria Interiors Inc., two other related business entities and contractor Ermin Pajazetovic.
The lawsuit demands the reversal of last March’s sale of the brick home at 2308 W. Giddings St. in Lincoln Square, plus $80,000 the Morrisseys say they paid for upgrades and landscaping. It also seeks unspecified damages for emotional distress and punitive damages.
According to the lawsuit:
- A promised new roof was never installed, and the existing roof failed, causing “leaks and water penetration” into the masonry, walls, windows and through the ceiling.
- Within two weeks of the sale, water was coming in through windows in the master bathroom, master closet and at the top of the second-floor stairs, “causing substantial damage to the surrounding structure, masonry and interior walls.”
- Over the next several months, windows in three of the bedrooms began leaking. “Nearly every window throughout the property was not installed correctly,” an inspector found.
- Large areas of masonry and mortar are crumbling on the outside of the house, “allowing water to seep into the interior walls and windows and further weaken the structure.”
- The front door wasn’t installed correctly. “It’s crooked,” a letter included with the lawsuit says.
Victoria declined to comment on the allegations but said In an email to the Chicago Sun-Times, “I worked directly with the Morrissey’s [sic] to resolve any issues of concern related to their home renovation.”
Eckhardt and Pajazetovic did not respond to requests for comment.
Discovery Inc., whose HGTV network is home to “Windy City Rehab,” didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The TV show, which HGTV deemed one of its most successful of 2019, follows luxury home designer Victoria and Eckhardt as they buy and rehabilitate properties, aiming to flip them to wealthy buyers.
According to HGTV, 9.3 million viewers tuned in for the show’s first month and a half, during a season that featured properties in Wicker Park, Bucktown, Ukrainian Village, Lincoln Square and Lincoln Park.
Despite the show’s popularity, “Windy City Rehab” has drawn complaints from neighbors about trash, noise and unsecured work sites.
In July, the city of Chicago buildings department upheld a license suspension against Eckhardt and Greymark Development Group after months of illegal work and neighbor complaints.
That was for 45 days, reduced from a proposed suspension of one year. City Hall said Eckhardt violated the law by building three garages and garage decks without permits and that he endangered workers and the public by removing flooring at properties without putting up safety barriers.
Eckhardt has said the illegal work wasn’t done at his direction, that it was performed by others he authorized to work on the properties.
As of late December, Eckhardt and Victoria were still barred from taking out new building permits other than any needed to fix problems at existing projects.
Last year, the city issued numerous stop-work orders at the pair’s properties, including homes featured on the first season of the show.
Some of the problems neighbors complained about became story lines in the show. In a show featuring the rehab of a home at 1800 W. Wabansia Ave., Eckhardt said a neighbor woke him one night to complain there was “water pouring out of the basement.” A water line had cracked and a shut-off valve failed. The burst pipe also flooded a neighbor’s basement.
At a nearby project at 1803 W. Wabansia Ave., Victoria and Eckhardt were shown making plans to save the exterior walls and facade of the house. But the structure crumbled while they were gutting the building. The two could be seen sitting on the home’s front porch, the house in rubble behind them.
The episode about the five-bedroom, 4.5-bath home on Giddings Street that’s at the center of the lawsuit, which aired last January, ended with a gorgeous rehab filled with elegant furnishings. For the show’s big reveal at the end, stand-ins substituted for the Morrisseys, who didn’t want to go on camera, a relative said.
“You killed it,” the actress pretending to be the buyer told Victoria on the show. “It’s amazing.”
Victoria replied: “It’s a huge house and a huge risk, and we hope that this is your forever home.”
On air, the show said that, based on the sale price, they stood to make $70,000 profit after buying the house for $640,000 and putting the same amount into renovations.
At the end of the episode, though, Victoria and Eckhardt lament that the deal still hadn’t closed and said they were losing money until it did.
Even though the project appeared finished on the show, workers were still completing details months later, and the backyard was a muddy mess.
Since then, according to text messages and emails attached to the lawsuit, the couple has been trying to get Victoria, Eckhardt and Pajazetovic to fix the problems, with little success.
“Know you guys are on it but it looks like the whole area for a few inches around the window frames are now bubbling and still dripping,” an April 29 text from Anna Morrissey says. “Could be seeping through from the roof and making its way through the wall above and around the windows … Just worried because we’re taking on a good amount of water.”
In September, she texted Eckhardt about the leaking shower: “We really need an update … It’s been nearly 7 months since the bathroom was first reported leaking … please please.”
At one point, the couple forwarded Eckhardt an email from a next-door neighbor telling them water from their property was flowing into her basement.
The front door continues to be a problem. “The front door was improperly hung (it’s crooked), has improper weather stripping and the frame (especially the area securing the deadbolt) is wholly inadequate,” a letter to the contractors attached to the lawsuit says.
The Morrisseys wouldn’t comment.
In the suit, the couple says they were promised a new roof and flashing as part of the project but that the promised roof wasn’t installed.
In October, the couple hired another inspector, who they said found “that nearly every window throughout the property was not installed correctly, (and) that a new roof was not installed.”
The buyers hired their own contractor to replace the roof at a cost of $37,400, of which they say $15,625 still hasn’t been reimbursed, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit contends that a reimbursement check for the roof work drawn from Alison Victoria Interiors’ account cleared, but a check from Greymark bounced. That prompted a scathing text from Victoria, attached to the lawsuit, saying, “If I have to cover his portion I will. I do not want him to f--- with my life or business any more than he already has.”
Fixing damage caused by the defectively installed windows and the masonry problems will cost an additional $38,300, the lawsuit says, and taking care of the defective plumbing in the upstairs bathroom will cost another $9,600.
The inspector hired by the Morrisseys reported 13 “serious concern/action needed” problems, including deterioration of the roof and chimney, problems with the downspouts, deteriorating mortar and leaking windows. Another 21 issues were found to be of moderate concern, needing repairs.
Victoria, who grew up in the suburbs and has a home in Bucktown, has described her goal as “taking over Chicago.”
She previously starred in “Kitchen Crashers” on the DIY Network. She told fans on Twitter on Dec. 29 the second season of “Windy City Rehab” would debut in “Summer 2020.”
“Bringing sexy back to the city is what I’m doing, why I got into this business,” Victoria says in a video promoting the show. “To make sure that I’m putting my stamp on every neighborhood in Chicago.
“A hundred years from now, people will be saying my name. I absolutely think I’m changing Chicago one house at a time.”