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Court should boot ‘Windy City Rehab’ off TV, lawsuit says

Anna and James Morrissey are seeking an injunction against the airing of the show, saying they were tricked into thinking the show’s hosts were experts in their field, a deception they say violates Illinois law.

“Windy City Rehab” stars Alison Victoria and Donovan Eckhardt
HGTV

A Chicago couple who bought a problem-plagued Lincoln Square home for $1.36 million after it was featured on HGTV’s “Windy City Rehab” claim they were deceived into thinking the hosts were experts in their fields and now want the show taken off the airwaves permanently.

Attorneys for the homeowners, James and Anna Morrissey, cite the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act in a motion filed late last month in Cook County Circuit Court that seeks to add Discovery — the parent company of HGTV — to a pending lawsuit against the show’s hosts: Alison Victoria Gramenos and Donovan Eckhardt.

“When the episode aired on Discovery’s HGTV network in January 2019, it was represented to plaintiffs and the public that the renovation of the property was complete and was of the highest quality,” according to the filing.

At a hearing that had been scheduled for Thursday in the case, attorneys agreed to reconvene next week to discuss the request.

The Morrisseys claim their home at 2308 W. Giddings St. has been plagued by leaks and shoddy work.

“Discovery’s promotion, endorsement, sponsorship, approval and certification that Victoria and Eckhardt were experts in real estate renovation and development was a determinative factor in Plaintiff’s decision to enter into the agreement,” the motion states.

“Plaintiffs are seeking a permanent injunction prohibiting Discovery from endorsing, sponsoring in any other way promoting Victoria and Eckhardt on any of their media platforms or television networks,” the motion states.

“As a result of Discovery’s deceptive trade practices, plaintiffs have incurred substantial expenses such as being forced to hire inspectors and contractors to identify Seller’s, Gramenos’s and Eckhardt’s shoddy construction of the property,” the motion states.

The judge presiding over the case has yet to rule on the motion, which was filed Jan. 23, just more than three weeks after the original suit was filed.

Neither Victoria, Eckhardt, nor representatives of the television network could be reached for comment Thursday.

The renovated home at 2308 W. Giddings. | Stephanie Zimmermann / Sun-Times
2308 W. Giddings.
Stephanie Zimmermann/Sun-Times

Request violates free speech: Victoria

The request to shut down the show runs against freedom of speech rights, Victoria’s attorneys argued in a separate motion.

“It is well settled that the relief sought, an injunction against speech is unavailable ... the Illinois Supreme Court has cautioned that prior restraints against speech violate the First Amendment of the Constitution,” the motion states.

Her lead attorney, Dan Lynch, has argued for the entire case to be dismissed because, under contract, disputes over the home’s quality were supposed to go to mediation before matters ended up in court.

Lynch’s firm characterized the attempt to add a new defendant and kick the show off the air as “further unnecessary complications” that, should they be allowed to proceed, “will cause ongoing harm” to Victoria and Eckhardt.

According to the lawsuit, problems began appearing just one day after the sale closed, when an upper-floor shower leaked gallons of water into the kitchen ceiling below. After that, things got worse, with a leaky roof and masonry, poorly installed windows and other issues.

A new roof was promised but not installed, forcing the couple to later hire their own roofing contractor, the couple’s suit says. They are still out $15,625 toward the roof, and it will cost almost $48,000 more to fix the masonry and bathroom along with an undetermined amount to fix the windows, the suit says.

Victoria previously floated the idea that she could resolve the dispute by buying the home back herself.

Her attorneys noted that the amended complaint removes language in the original complaint that asked for the property to be returned to the seller for $1.44 million — about $80,000 more than what they paid for it. Now they are asking for the purchase price, $1.36 million, “plus all costs associated with the purchase of the property.”

“Perhaps it is because responding defendants expressed an interest in purchasing the property and plaintiffs want some flexibility in setting the price,” the defense motion states.

It’s been a tough few months for the co-hosts.

Problems have included angry neighbors who’ve complained about messy worksites, a crackdown by the city’s Buildings Department and an apparent rift that’s opened up between Victoria and Eckhardt.

Season 2 for the hit show is in the works, but no air date has been announced.