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Homeowner pain resulted from inspection lapses

The pitches from happier days still remain on the Internet:

"A lifestyle of luxury and adventure await you at Calypso Bay," goes one come-hither real estate advertisement. "Your dream vacation home awaits you on the shores of Lake Tulloch."

Several more ads include photos of shoreline estates, golden hills and the reservoir's placid waters.

But little remains calm in the lakeside subdivision today. Instead of finding dream homes, more than a few buyers have found nightmares.

Some shabbily built Calypso Bay homes are sinking into the ground or are plagued by construction problems. Others remain partially built — abandoned, apparently, when money ran out.

The project developers, brothers Volodymyr and Leonid Dubinsky, have been sued for fraud and several companies they own have filed for bankruptcy. For homeowners, getting compensation is, at best, a dubious proposition.

But particularly painful is the salt added to the wounds by the Calaveras County Building Department. Charged with protecting homebuyers, the department did little to do so at Calypso Bay.

Instead of conducting its own building inspections, the county allowed the Dubinskys to hire, and pay, their own consulting firm to do the job.

If you think this process is suspect, you're not alone: An independent audit commissioned last year by the county found that the practice led to inconsistent building code enforcement. It has since been eliminated.

"All projects are now looked at in-house," said Jeff White, the county's interim chief building official.

But the change, which came about six months ago, does little to help duped Calypso Bay homeowners. Also, some new buyers were issued bogus occupancy permits and others bought and moved into homes which had not yet cleared a required final inspection.

So what are the lessons this sad tale teaches?

First and foremost, it's an age-old, yet always timely adage: buyer beware.

Even where building departments have flawless policies and inspectors and administrators who are beyond reproach, shady builders or developers still prey on the naive and unsuspecting. So buyers who pay a few hundred dollars to hire their own inspectors may, in the long run, save themselves thousands of dollars and a fair amount of heartbreak.

Also, a measure of skepticism never hurts: Rather than believing developer or sales-agent assurances that all requirements have been met, call the county and make sure that your dream home has passed all required inspections and has all needed permits.

Which brings us to lesson No. 2:

The county should never forget that its Building Department's first mission is not to cut financial corners or to accommodate contractors, but to protect the consumer.

With the developers and their hand-picked inspectors on the job at Calypso Bay, conceded current building boss White, what exactly happened remains "a mystery" to the county. This is no way to run a building department.

On the plus side, Calaveras County has since improved its policies and procedures. In fact, said White, had the present system been in place a year ago, many of the irregularities and violations that have now come to light at Calypso Bay might have been prevented.

Unfortunately, this is of little solace to those whose homes may now be sinking around them.

The county's share of the blame may be small. But the Building Department — which has already began "reinspections" — should be doing all it can to help Calypso Bay's wronged buyers to bring their homes up to code and get the necessary permits.

While this may not bring the promised "dream homes," it just might restore some faith in government.

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