Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Dream House Turned Nightmare

"Essentially they had removed part of the foundation wall. I could see through to the neighbours. I could pass a coffee cup through for sure."
"I remember Jimmy [her husband] pulling me over one day and showing me cracks in the ceiling and down the walls."
"He's like, 'You're not going to believe this, they tore down the house. And I thought to myself, 'No, no, no. It can't be that bad."
"As I'm driving up the street, I guess my face just dropped."
"I have a Welsh bible that's been in my family for 100 years, so I grab that. I grab some jewellery. We grab a couple of changes of clothes and a toothbrush and we get in the car."
Allison Pantaleo, Toronto
Supplied Photo
Supplied Photo   When Jim and Allison Pantaleo first met — as coworkers at a pub called Gabby's on the Danforth — it was something close to love at first sight. Not long after that, they were married.

A home needn't be a palatial palace to be viewed by its owners as their castle. Certainly the modest semi-detached house that Jim Pantaleo and his wife Allison bought represented the exalted status of home ownership, a place of their own, their haven, a home where they would raise a family, and live of course, happily ever after. Except for the fact that this isn't what happened with the young couple who had made such glorious plans for their future together.

The house they bought was twinned with a house bought by another couple, Jonathan Wood and his wife Gillian Irving. But the Pantaleos were ecstatic, they bought the modest house by bidding just over the selling price, and it cost them $340,000. Only in Toronto's overheated housing market would such a house as they bought on Dunkirk Road, number 29, sell for that inflated price. Unless, of course, they were living in Vancouver, where houses are even more over-priced.

But it was their own, and they loved it. They set about upgrading the house, small and old as it was. They had the kitchen refurbished with granite counter tops and limestone floors, had new cherry wood floors laid throughout, added new lighting and painted the entire interior. And then prepared to move in. While renovations were simultaneously taking place at number 31 Dunkirk Road, the half attached to their own.

A City inspector turned up to inspect the property attached to the Pantaleo family's. He found a number of problems on the building site, ordering the contractor doing the work, Ironwood Construction Ltd. to "stop work immediately"; have a structural engineer come in, to address the issues before they would be given the green light to continue. That house was being completely gutted.

The order was lifted eventually and work resumed. At the same time the Pantaleo family's contractor alerted them to his concerns. "The site's not secure", he said. "I don't think this guy knows what he's doing." Part of the foundation wall had been removed. The foundation began to shift. Propane fumes from the next-door worksite seeped into their home. The floors were cracking; the stairs separating from the walls.

Supplied PhotoSupplied Photo

The couple had met at work, in a pub. They ended up buying that pub together and managing it very well indeed. They got married, and made their plans for the future. Their business was going well, they were busy, but their thoughts turned to starting a family. That's when they began looking around for a house. They looked for a full year before they first saw the semi-detached house they ended up buying.

That house, in fact, turned out not to be the place of their dreams, but the site of their living nightmares, as the couple who bought the next-door semi to which their own was attached, seemed to have attached no importance whatever to what their plans for their half of the attached building would be doing to the other half owned and lived in by another young couple.

Finally, the decision was made to go beyond merely gutting the house to replace it with a new interior. The decision was made by the other couple living at 31 Dunkirk to entirely demolish their half of the building. During which the workers tore a hole in the Pantaleos' roof. And it was soon realized that without the support from 31 Dunkirk their house began to lean toward the open pit where the other half had once stood.

Supplied Photo
Supplied Photo   The Pantaleos planned to move in to their new home, at 29 Dunkirk Rd. (right) on 
Oct. 31, 2009.

The engineer the Pantaleos had engaged advised them to vacate the house, it was unsafe to continue living there. They took what few possessions they could, including their three cats and left their dream house. Eventually 31 Dunkirk was rebuilt entirely. The owners chose to sell it, making a considerable profit on the exchange; the $519,000 they realized for the house was twice what they had paid for it. The Pantaleo house was sold as well, at a $30,000 loss.

And the couple, Allison and Jim, weren't in too good shape, the stress they were under more or less ruined their marriage and they separated. "He was just a shell of who he used to be. He looked horrible. He sounded horrible. He was literally doing nothing", said a friend, speaking of Jim Pantaleo. He was deeply in debt and losing money faster than he made it. And decided to sell his business.

His body was discovered by a jogger, in Riverdale Park, beside the Don River in Toronto. He had mortally shot himself, leaving suicide notes with his mother for distribution to the people he cared about. Allison now lives in a small one-bedroom apartment close to the home she and Jim once owned and based their future plans on.

The lawsuit that she and her husband launched is ongoing. They had filed a lawsuit in Ontario Superior Court against the owners of 31 Dunkirk, the operator of Ironwood Construction, the engineer and the City of Toronto, asking for $2.8-million in damages.

Allison occasionally sees that couple, who now have a young child. She had known them earlier as occasional diners at the pub she and Jim had once owned. "I didn't say anything, because what are you going to say? But just watching her with her daughter ... it's not fair. It's just not fair", she says wistfully, of the last encounter when she saw them in Starbucks.

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