A couple had a rent-to-own agreement with a third party for a house, pursuant to which they had accumulated some equity. They agreed to relinquish that agreement, forgo their equity, and help a licensed realtor, Michael Fowler, purchase the house, which he did. The couple also entered into an oral agreement with Fowler for him to build them a new house on the lot.
Mr. Fowler drafted a purchase and sale agreement for the construction of the house without including plans and specifications, which the plaintiff’s expert found very unusual. Mr. Fowler built a white elephant of a house which, among other things, had no entrance on the ground floor, being accessible only by climbing thirteen steps to a door. This strange configuration meant occupants on the first floor needed to climb a full flight of interior stairs before climbing down the thirteen exterior stairs. The expert appraiser testified that in his career he had looked at thousands and thousands of houses and had never seen anything quite like that house.
Among several other odd and dangerous features of the house, some of which violated local codes, Mr. Fowler also failed to provide documents to the couples’ lender, which contributed to the couple not being able to obtain the loan, and pressured the couple into accepting the house. The trial court found the plaintiff’s cumulative actions 1) met the rascality test of the New Hampshire Consumer Protection Act (RSA 356-A), thus making the Act applicable to him, and 2) was willful and knowing. The Supreme Court found both conclusions were supported by the evidence, and thus allowed the trial court’s award of treble damages to remain, and upheld the trial court’s award of attorneys’ fees.
One lesson? Attach plans and specifications to construction agreements.