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The stars of HGTV's Windy City Rehab, Alison Victoria (real name Alison Gramenos) and Donovan Eckhardt have come under fire again as they've been named as defendants in a new lawsuit that will likely give pause to anyone in Chicago who's been considering buying one of their homes. While viewers love watching the duo remodel and flip luxury homes in the city, a couple who bought one of their properties now wants them to take it back because of all the problems they've had with the home.
James and Anna Morrissey, who bought a $1.36 million home which was featured on Windy City Rehab, filed a lawsuit on December 30 in Cook County circuit court against Gramenos, Eckhardt, their companies, contractor Ermin Pajazetovic and two other businesses related to the rehab and sale. Their lawsuit cites consumer fraud, breach of warranty and contract, as well as "defective and shoddy work."
The Morrisseys claim that, the day after they closed on the 4,000 square foot home in the Lincoln Square section of the city, an upper floor shower leaked several gallons of water into the ceiling of the kitchen, which is right below. Unfortunately, that's just the tip of the, allegedly, poor home improvement iceberg, and the suit claims that the situation in the home got way worse after that initial leak.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, there are several text messages and emails attached to the lawsuit (including photos) which detail many additional problems with the house after the Morrisseys moved in. These issues include the promised new roof never having been installed, and the couple having to pay for the work to be done themselves to the tune of $37,400, most of which has not been reimbursed yet.
The homeowners also allege they've had to deal with water coming in through master bathroom windows, the master closet and at the top of the second-floor stairs, windows in three of the bedrooms leaking, large areas of masonry and mortar crumbling on the outside of the house and letting in even more water to interior walls and windows, and a front door that was installed improperly to the point where the deadbolt might not be totally secure.
The contractor hired by the Morrisseys pointed out 13 serious problems, which included those leaking windows, problems with the downspouts, and the deteriorating mortar, chimney and roof. In addition, there were 21 other problems listed as being of moderate concern, but still needing repairs. Assuming that even part of this is true, it's pretty easy to see why the Chicago couple is demanding reversal of the sale, the $80,000 they paid for upgrades and landscaping, as well as unspecified punitive damages and damages for emotional distress.
HGTV reported that a whopping 9.3 million people watched Windy City Rehab for the first month and a half it aired, but it sounds like things might not be totally above board with all the home rehabs that get done for the renovation series. Last July saw the buildings department of Chicago revoke the permit privileges of Donovan Eckhardt's Greymark Development Group, which handles a lot of projects featured on the show. Greymark was subjected to a year-long ban, but the punishment was cut down to 45 days, while, as of late December, Eckhardt and Gramenos still weren't allowed to take out new building permits which didn't relate to fixing work on existing rehabs.
So, why the ban? Windy City Rehab has gotten many complaints from neighbors near their renovations, which said their crews left trash around the homes, didn't properly secure work sites and inconvenienced neighbors with noisy work on holidays. The city also noted that they found the show engaged in months of illegal work, by building three garages and garage decks without permits, and also endangering workers and the public by taking out flooring without putting up safety barriers.
Last year, the city of Chicago also issued "numerous" stop-work orders for Windy City Rehab homes, including some seen on Season 1, such as the house with a cracked water line that led to a neighbor's basement getting flooded.
In case you're wondering how all the legal troubles have affected the partnership between Eckhardt and Gramenos, things don't look good on that front, either. One of the text messages included in the lawsuit revealed that Gramenos, who had been contacted by the Morrisseys after Eckhardt's check to cover the remainder of the new roof bounced, is seemingly fed up with him. She noted that she was willing to cover his portion of the reimbursement because "I do not want him to fuck with my life or business any more than he already has.” Ouch.
In addition, after Eckhardt, who was the show's general contractor, got his residential real estate developer license and general contractor license suspended (which happened last summer at the same time that his company's permit privileges were stripped), Gramenos posted to Instagram saying that she was working with a new general contractor to clear up all Windy City Rehab permit issues, and noted that Season 2 was in production.
The episode that featured the home at the center of the lawsuit, which aired last January, said that, after buying the home for $640,000 and then putting that same amount into renovations, Alison Gramenos and Donovan Eckhardt stood to make a profit of $70,000, based on the sale price. However, the same episode showed them admitting that a deal to sell the house hadn't closed and they would lose money on the project until it did. On top of that, the Sun-Times notes that, while the home seemed finished at the end of the episode, the backyard was "a muddy mess" and details were still being worked on for months afterward.
As we can see from the lawsuit, though, it would appear that the work on those details didn't take care of any of the house's real problems. Alison Gramenos declined to comment specifically on the allegations in the suit, but told the Chicago Sun-Times, in an email, that she worked "directly" with the Morrisseys in order to "resolve any issues of concern related to their home renovation."