Contractor abandons house rebuild, owner sleeps in car

Losing your home to a fire is devastating. But for a DeKalb County man, believe it or not, it got worse. He said the contractor got paid, but the house is still a shell. 

Robert Watts thought he did everything right. After his house fire, he checked off all the boxes. He got his insurance and mortgage companies involved. He secured a contractor rated well with the BBB. But two-plus years later, Robert Watts’s home is uninhabitable. As a result, at times, he has had to resort to sleeping in his car. 

He gave the Fox 5 I-Team a tour inside boarded up home.  

"This is the living room and the dining room," he showed us. But, honestly, right now it’s all one big, open, unfinished space. It’s a house, but certainly not a home.

The contractor admits to the Fox 5 I-Team he did not finish this home rebuild after a fire. It's been more than two years. 

In March 2020, just as the pandemic was kicking in, his house caught fire. Mr. Watts’s insurance company estimated it would take more than $129,000 to fix his DeKalb County home. 

He hired A Superior Contracting & Restoration to do the job, a company with an A- rating with the Better Business Bureau. 

The contract shows the work would be done no later than July 31, 2020. But here we are at the end of 2022. 

"He just stopped coming," Watts said of the contractor. 

To be honest, county records show it wasn’t going well from the start. The first building permit wasn’t pulled until August 2020, after the contract deadline. Almost five months after that, DeKalb County records show the framing inspection had failed. 

And inside the house Watts is unhappy with the work he sees.

"The wall here," he said, "I don’t know why this is here. It’s not supposed to be here. Period."

Over the summer the FOX5 I-Team called the contractor, Tavarus Riley, to ask what happened. Immediately, he started texting the homeowner again. He wrote, "I’m going to make this right (sic) it’s my fault." He said he was going to get to the Southvale Drive house and "start working." 

But he never did. 

"I hate the fact that I haven't got it done, but I am going to get it done," Riley said. 

By November, Tavarus Riley agreed to meet with the FOX 5 I-Team at the unfinished home to explain why it’s been more than two and a half years since Robert Watts’s fire, and he still can’t live here. 

"When we got to a point where we couldn't move forward. We actually, there was still funds in the escrow account," Riley said.

We pushed and asked why the job couldn't move forward. 

"Because ... getting it inspected. Each time this box here …." his voiced trailed as he walked off. 

We still weren’t clear what the owner of A Superior Contracting & Restoration was getting at, so we asked again why it's November 2022, the house burned March 2020, and the contract said it would be completed by July 31, 2020?

"Because we’re not finished. Things just happened," he said. "Just mishaps."

That’s about as much clarity as we could get; meantime, the homeowner told us how much money he paid the contractor. 

"Between $80 ($80,000) and $90,000."

What money was left over from the insurance payout, Watts said he’s had to use to pay rent at a boarding house while he pays the mortgage on a house he can't live in. 

To save money, from time to time, he stays with relatives or sleeps in his car, even showering at the Y. But what he wants to do is to drive through his tidy neighborhood, into his driveway and simply go inside to the home he owns. 

Contractor Tavarus Riley agrees. 

"He needs to come home. He needs to come home. I gotta go, Dana," he said.

Riley told FOX 5's Dana Fowle that business was harder to manage at the beginning of the pandemic, so he filed for a government Paycheck Protection Program loan to help. PPP loans were issued to get business owners through the rocky times. But still, Watts’s house didn’t seem to be on that ‘to-do’ list.