SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - NewsChannel 3 has a nice surprise for a woman who battled the City of Santa Barbara and its code inspectors during the sale of her home.
Anne Childress' story is important, because what happened to her could easily happen to you too.
Two months ago, she didn't know if her home on Calle Cortita in Santa Barbara would ever sell even though she had a buyer all lined up.
"My house finally closed on February 28 after six months of a nightmare with the city," Childress told NewsChannel 3 during a recent visit to Santa Barbara from Burbank where she lives now.
It started when the city's planning department issued a Zoning Information Report or ZIR for the home.
Santa Barbara requires one to identify health and safety code violations on the property.
Childress bought the house on Calle Cortita in 1998. City inspectors back then looked it over and gave the home a clean ZIR, meaning they found no violations.
She made no changes to the house since then. But, when she tried to sell it last October, she got a long list of violations. All of them missed by city code inspectors 16 years ago.
Santa Barbara City Planner Bettie Weiss admits the city made mistakes.
"I think we should have and could have been able to identify these improvements when we were there in 1998," said Weiss.
Did the city cut Childress a break? After all, it was their mistake. Not really. City inspectors still forced her to spend almost $60,000 to correct those violations.
"I had to quit my job to move away. I can't afford to live here anymore. Now it's costing me more and more money. It's not right," said Childress as she fought back tears during an interview with NewsChannel 3 in December.
"The city incompetence has caused good people to spend tens of thousands of dollars," said Santa Barbara Realtor Steve Epstein.
Epstein, who is also Childress' realtor, said other homeowners have gone through the same nightmare.
Childress and Epstein considered suing the city. But they say some attorney's were afraid of retaliation and others wanted to take the case but discovered the city can't be sued over this problem because of something called sovereign immunity.
"They admitted they did wrong and still they can do whatever they want because I think they know they can't be sued for this kind of horrible thing," said Childress.
Luckily, the folks at First American Title in Santa Barbara saw our Tipline story. They called Epstein and suggested Childress file a claim against her title insurance.
She took that advice and received a check for $25,000. It's less than half the money she was forced to spend, but Childress says it's a huge help, because she's still looking for a job in the Los Angeles area.
NewsChannel 3 would like to thank Karen Chackel, Ann Hamilton and everyone at First American Title for helping Anne Childress and processing her claim in less than two weeks.
Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider said the city is reviewing problems with the ZIR program and NewsChannel 3 has also learned our story may have prompted a Grand Jury investigation.