Couple loses in bulldozed house case

February 11, 1992|By Jay Apperson

A couple who bulldozed a half-finished Severna Park house because they thought it was poorly built came up nearly empty yesterday in their court fight against the builder.

Jack and Virginia Stephens had sought at least $186,000 -- the cost of replacing the home plus expenses, including demolition -- in a suit charging builder Lance Germanos with breach of contract, breach of warranty, negligence and engaging in deceptive trade practices.

But an Anne Arundel County jury, after deliberating for 14 hours over three days, found in favor of the builder on all but one count.

The jury ruled that Mr. Germanos and his Associated Developers and Contractors Inc. had engaged in deceptive trade practices by mishandling money in an escrow account and failing to be properly bonded. The Stephenses were awarded $20,000 in punitive damages on that count.

The Stephenses declined to comment after the verdict was announced.

Emil Germanos, who designed the house for his son, Lance, and was a defendant in the suit, expressed relief at hearing of the verdict.

He said he was concerned that the jury would be overly influenced by the testimony of engineers who looked at the half-built house nearly a year after construction had been halted.

Testimony during the three-week trial showed that county inspectors had found no major problems with the house.

A judge now will decide whether the Stephenses, who bought the half-acre on which the house was built from the Germanoses for $73,000, should return the property and receive a refund for the land.

In 1987, after buying the lot in Ben Oaks-on-the-Severn, the Stephenses agreed to pay Lance Germanos $147,000 for the house. As it was being built, they began complaining about the quality of the work.

In March 1989, the Germanoses offered to refund the Stephenses' money, plus interest. They refused the offer, and in January 1990 Mr. Stephens paid $12,000 to have the house razed as he stood by and watched.

Emil Germanos said the Stephenses became unhappy when they realized the house might be different than the magazine picture that had inspired its design.

"I have a feeling there was a complete misunderstanding with Mr. and Mrs. Stephens as to what a house built to industry standards would look like at the 50 percent completion stage," he said. "I would give them the benefit of the doubt that it was an honest misunderstanding."

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