PENDLETON — Wes Brooks placed the 8-foot-long bubble level against a wall of his new home outside Pendleton. One end sat flush with the gray paint on the surface. The other end drifted off the wall more than an inch.
So it went, wall after wall.
“If it was one or two things, you would make a warranty claim, and they just come out and fix it,” Brooks said. “And if they don’t, it’s not that big a deal.”
But for Brooks and the company that built the house, Adair Homes, Inc., the dispute over its construction is a big deal involving Facebook, an arbitration bill north of $10,000 and a lawsuit for $550,000.
Going with Adair
Brooks, 31, a retired Army sergeant with full medical disability, and his wife, Ashley, live with their four dogs — Echo, Kilo, Radar and Zulu — on a small spread off Missouri Gulch Road, about a 30-minute drive along wheat fields northwest of Pendleton. They lost their home in a fire in March 2017 and that December contracted with Washington-based Adair Homes to build a new house for $304,439.
From the start, he said, the build went awry with poor workmanship and delays. The job Brooks said he understood to take 90 days stretched on for months. The two-story house passed all building inspections at the end of October 2018, and the couple opted to move in because of assurances from Adair.
“They gave me a verbal promise that they would return to finish the home,” he said.
The Adair crew returned three times to fix problems, he said, but they would not fix everything he saw as wrong. Brooks said the last meeting at his place escalated into a confrontation. He said he kicked out the Adair crew and told them not to come back.
“I actually kind of felt threatened in my own home,” he said.
Some of the problems in the house are superficial, such as the door frames on the second story. Rather than the colonial trim Brookses wanted, the builders used plain trim. And instead of connecting the corners at 45-degree angles, they slapped boards across the top of the frame with unfinished ends sticking out. The plethora of nail holes in those frames look just as amateurish.
The formica on the kitchen counters does not run all the way to the wall. Multiple screw holes are visible in the back of the kitchen cabinets. The back of one cabinet has a gaping hole to access an electrical socket.
Other problems are substantial.
Along with the warped walls, the walls on either side of the entry to the living room do not align. The exterior of the home has loose boards. Brooks said a miswired outlet in the garage led to a power failure and the loss of $380 worth of frozen meat. And linoleum flooring bubbled up in the laundry room and the kitchen, he said, so he handled those repairs because he did not trust the Adair crews.
“We started pulling up the floor,” he said. “It wasn’t even nailed down in some spots.”
Brooks said his attorney told him to stop repairing the home.
“That way they can’t come and say there’s nothing wrong with the place,” Brooks said.
The repairs costs more than $28,500, and the Brookses owed Adair $174,439 for the home. Brooks said Adair would not give them a credit for the repairs nor offer to hire a local contractor he trusted to make repairs. So this past February he emailed the company this message:
“I will be launching a full-on counter advertising campaign using my First Amendment right to express my personal opinion on the quality of this company and my experience with the quality of their house builds using social media, the BBB and various news organizations.”
True to his word, Brooks created the Facebook group “Quality of Adair Homes” to air his beef with the company, find other people in similar situations with Adair and prevent those from happening in the future.
Adair weighs in
Adair builds homes in Oregon and Washington, and also has an office in Idaho. The company works on a business model of building customer homes on the customer’s property. The customer shoulders responsibility for preparing the site, any landscaping and painting. Adair customers also are partially responsible for cleanup.
“It’s in a way a joint homebuilder agreement,” Steve Nordstrom, Adair’s vice president of operations, said.
Nordstrom said he learned about the problems with the house build in December 2018 when the accounting office asked what was going on with the $174,000 the Brookses owed. Nordstrom said he talked to the superintendent on that build, and he reported significant issues in the finalizing of the house.
“We offered to take care of those things,” Nordstrom said. “I’m not saying the accountability is not ours. It absolutely is. It’s our responsibility to make the things right.”
Brooks by then refused to let Adair workers on the property. Then came the Facebook page.
Nordstrom said the issue is not with Brooks criticizing Adair. Brooks, however, is using the company’s trade name on a Facebook page he started on his own and which Adair has no control over. More to the point, Nordstrom contended Brooks is using the page to make false accusations and statements about Adair and its employees.
“We respect any customer’s right to criticize, and like any good company we solicit feedback. But we also believe our employees have the right not to have untruths said about them,” he said. “We believe it’s important to defend that right.”
Adair on March 25 filed a defamation lawsuit against Brooks in Umatilla County Circuit Court to shut down the Facebook group and seek $550,000 in damages from the loss of sales due to the group.
Brooks said he remembers well getting the notice to go to court.
“I found out Ashley was pregnant,” he said, “and the next morning I woke up and got served with the lawsuit.”
He and his attorney, Laura Eckstein of La Grande, sought to dismiss the case, claiming in court documents that Brooks was exercising his “constitutional rights of free speech in connection with an issue of public interest,” and Adair was trying to shut down that speech.
Circuit Judge Eva Temple on Sept. 24 ruled the lawsuit could go on. In a three-page order denying the motion to dismiss, Temple stated Brooks did not limit his comments about Adair Homes to his opinion, which would have qualified for free speech protection. But Brooks “specifically stated facts that are provable,” according to the order, and “Adair argues these statements of facts are false.”
As such, the lawsuit gets to continue.
“It will be up to the parties,” the judge concluded, “to provide specific evidence to establish their claims at trial.”
The attorneys and Temple held a phone conference Friday to talk about the next steps, according to state court records, and Temple set June 25, 2020, for a trial readiness hearing and Aug. 4-6 for trial.
Adair builds about 500 homes a year, Nordstrom said, and over the course of the company’s history has built around 20,000. Adair takes seriously its commitment to provide the home the customer wants and will fix what it gets wrong, he said, and there is no doubt the Brookses’ home has serious issues, but the company has no desire to have a conflict with a customer.
“This is frankly an extraordinary situation for us,” Nordstrom said.
Just how common these situations are for Adair Homes, however, is hard to pin down. Like many organizations providing goods and services, from banks to telecoms, Adair has its customers agree to use arbitration.
Forced arbitration has been a significant issue this year in Congress, where House and Senate committees have weighed in on problems with the practice of having companies mandate customers — and even employees — waive rights to settle disputes in civil court and in exchange rely on a sole arbitrator to decide cases behind closed doors.
Arbitration is common in the home building industry, Nordstrom said, but not being a lawyer, he pushed off talking about why Adair Homes uses it. Brooks said even at the time he signed the contact and had to agree to use arbitration, he didn’t know if he would have objected.
Less than a month after filing the lawsuit, Adair filed an arbitration claim. Brooks reported his share of the arbitration cost so far is $10,500.
No resolution for now
Brooks said he and his wife, whose baby is due in late November, would like this to be over.
“I did try to negotiate a deal with Adair,” he said. “I can’t discus the specifics of the negotiations, but Adair was not willing to compromise.”
Nordstrom said there’s an arbitration hearing in December, and Adair is hopeful about reaching a resolution.
“Mr. and Mrs. Brooks are good people,” Nordstrom said, “and our disagreements are business related and not personal in anyway.”
He stressed Adair is willing to jump back into the house and make repairs if Brooks gives the OK and lives up to his end of the deal.
“That position is in keeping with what we see as our company’s core values — integrity and doing the right thing,” he said. “We would love to have this resolved in a fair and positive way for all the parties.”
Brooks said there is a way Adair can make good on this.
“Well, according to the experts we have had, it would be cheaper to demolish it and rebuild,” Brooks said. “So I would like for Adair to pay for it to be demolished, the materials removed and reimburse us for time and costs. Plus, pay for our additional living expenses during that time. This situation has cost us a lot of money, anxiety, and our credit is now in the dumps. I had to decline physical therapy after my shoulder surgery because I didn’t have the money to pay the co-pay.”