Chicago family pays $65K to look after Lawndale house built by accident in the wrong place 10 years ago, mistake never caught

CHICAGO (WLS) — A Chicago family is nearly evicted from their dream home after more than a decade of living in it because, in a strange way, it was built in the wrong place.

The Millers did nothing wrong, but they paid a heavy price.

“We just wanted somewhere our family could call home, we wanted to live in our community and we wanted a place where our son could lay his head and we wouldn't worry.” said Sharmaine Miller.

But she and her husband Pernell had nothing but worries. In 2005, they bought a three-story house and started their family in the town's Lawndale neighborhood. Then, in 2019, they were notified that their property was being sold with taxes in arrears. The Millers had paid their property tax bill, but the bill they received was for a different lot; many next door.

“We were told we might be evicted, we might lose our homes,” Sharmaine explained.

Here's what happened: The Millers' house was supposed to be built on the vacant lot, LOT 39. But the builders built the house on the vacant lot next to LOT 38.

All of the Miller family's documents – their survey plates, deeds, building permits, mortgage and title insurance – were properly listed, LOT 39. The Millers thought their house was on LOT 39. But the builders, now bankrupt, built it in LOT 38.

“There should be checks and balances of a lot of different people,” said Sharmaine.

For eleven years, the Millers collected tax bills for LOT 39, the vacant lot where their home was supposed to be. The Cook County appraiser mistakenly appraised the land as if it had a house on it. In 2017, the Appraiser fixed the problem, but didn't tell the Millers. The couple knew something was wrong when their tax bill suddenly decreased.

“They would say ‘nothing is wrong. Nothing is wrong'. But something was wrong,” said Sharmaine.

The Cook County Appraiser's Office admitted to Team-I that they made property tax errors, saying, “steps taken during previous administration resulted in a valuation error that has been corrected,” and that “will support the family by providing any documentation required in their efforts to remedy the situation.”

The Millers believe they deserve a refund because they pay taxes on the vacant lot as if there was a house on it. But, the Appraisal's Office said it couldn't refund Miller because of Illinois' statute of limitations.

Meanwhile, while they were paying the bill on the vacant lot, the taxes for the land with the Miller house on it went unpaid and defaulted. That's when a private company bought the tax and told the Millers they had to move.

This situation is stressful for the Miller family.

“I feel anxious, nervous and upset about what's going to happen to us,” said Pernell Miller.

The I-Team also checked with the Cook County Clerk, who kept track of the Miller family's deed.

They told I-Team, “The root cause of this problem is the fact that the house was built on the wrong property in 2005. Even if the couple had contacted the Registrar's Office years ago, employees would not… determine that there was a other questionable property.”

To keep their home, the Millers reached a settlement with a private company that bought up the tax arrears. The price is $43,000, plus attorneys' fees.

“If we want to defend our home and we have to pay for other people's mistakes,” said Sharmaine.

Between paying and overpaying property taxes, the Millers paid $65,000 in other people's wrongdoing.

“Everyone involved needs to make us whole. We don't deserve this, make us whole,” said Sharmaine.

The Millers now have both. The family is exploring other legal options but their attorneys say they cannot sue the builder because he is out of business and has already passed the statute of limitations. The title company rejected their claims of coverage and would not give us comment.

This problem is very rare, it is unlikely to happen to you. But you can protect yourself by ordering a new land survey before buying a new home.