Hollywood employees impersonate buyers to get into homes

City employees go undercover to bust homeowners

By Jeff Weinsier

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. - City of Hollywood employees said they are bending the rules to protect the public, but some claim they have gone too far.

Local 10 News learned the city's code compliance officers are posing as potential home buyers to gain access into a house and look for violations.

Mildred Leon thought the man she was letting into her house was interested in buying it.

Leon, who is selling a home in Emerald Hills, said he called and expressed interest in her house. She said the code compliance officer came to her house wearing civilian clothes and had no visible city identification. 

"He ... walked around our house and told us a story that he was moving over to this area from Cooper City," Leon said.

That same day, the city slapped Leon with nine code violations. The city said she had no permits for a remodeled kitchen, bathrooms, work done on the pool, the air conditioning and the sprinkler system.

Leon later found out the person she allowed in to look at the house was Lou Brignardello, a Hollywood code compliance officer.

Leon is not alone.

"We did a walk through and talked about his financial situation," realtor Lionel Mignot said. "He told me he was relocating from Cooper City with his two daughters and his wife."

Mignot said the property he has listed was slapped with similar interior violations.

Orin Hillel bought, remodeled and has a house under contract in Hollywood. Brignardello, posing as a home buyer as well, also cited him.

"(He looked) around and asked me, you know, about the work that was done," HIllel said. "He asked if he could take pictures."

Hillel, too, was slapped with a list of violations for work without a permit that will likely cost him hundreds of dollars in penalties.

After showing the house, Hillel got a deceiving text message from Brignardello claiming that he wasn't interested anymore because his wife didn't like the house.

This is a text message between a Hollywood employee and a homeowner.

"I'm really upset at the way that they are conducting business in this city," Leon said. 

Mignot agrees. 

"I didn't understand the reason for the lying," Mignot said.

John Chidsey has been head of Hollywood code compliance for three months. He came up with the idea.

He said code enforcement officers have been instructed to go to open houses on the weekend as well.

Despite the city's own rules saying employees cannot be deliberately dishonest or deceptive, the city attorney and the city manager gave Chidsey the green light.

The city of Hollywood has rules pertaining to dishonesty.

Chidsey said he's protecting the public.

He said in many cases investors buying and flipping while looking for a quick buck are cutting corners.

"It's an epidemic," Chidsey said.

Chidsey said insurance companies may not cover a buyer if work isn't permitted and there is a fire or flood.

"What surprises me the most is that the work is so substandard and against the building code and unsafe," Chidsey said. "It's a life safety issue, not only for a potential buyer, but for the neighbors as well." 

Chidsey said most homeowners and those flipping houses know the rules.

"If we deal with 20 (of them), 19 of them knew exactly what they were doing," Chidsey said.

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