Net Nemesis

Walt Volkenannt was unhappy with his new house, so he took his complaints to the World Wide Web, much to the consternation of his builder

But Volkenannt remains unconvinced. He says his biggest beef with the builder is over whether the structural inspection by the engineer was ever actually performed. When he threatened to file an ethics complaint with the state against the engineer, Volkenannt says the engineer contacted him and said he had turned the job down.

Correspondence provided to The Riverfront Times by Whittaker Homes is unclear as to whether the inspection occurred. Goss wrote in an October 1999 letter to Volkenannt that he had "retained the services of an independent structural engineer to examine the home," who "determined the home was properly built and did not have any structural defects." In a later letter, in March, Goss wrote that after the structural engineer met with Volkenannt at the home, "he declined to have any further involvement in the matter" and that he "declined to bill us for his services." Goss says the engineer did an inspection, but after meeting with Volkenannt and fielding his questions, the engineer wanted nothing more to do with him and did not issue a formal report.

Volkenannt says he has repeatedly asked for either the actual building plans or a copy of the engineer's report and hasn't received either.

In letters to Volkenannt, Goss laid out the company's extensive attempts to satisfy him. And he suggested the root of the dispute had more to do with a sort of buyer's remorse -- noting that Volkenannt once told him he wanted to retire at a home in the country but his wife wanted to stay in St. Peters to be near the grandchildren. Volkenannt says that doesn't matter: "Whether or not I wanted the house has nothing to do with it."

Volkenannt believes he is doing a sort of public service with his Internet postings -- the result of his own "crash course" on Web-page-building last year. "Really, I had no clue," he says. "I just went online, and almost every major search engine has an icon that says 'free Web site.' I just fiddled with it until I figured it out, uploaded the images and put them in order." It took him more than a week. "My key thing is to get the word out to the consumer. I learned some expensive lessons in this."

Posting consumer complaints on the Internet comes with some risk. Jean Maneke, an attorney who represents the Missouri Press Association, says individuals who post information on such sites run the risk of defamation lawsuits if the information isn't true.

"This is not new, and it is not at all unusual," she says. "It's no different whether it's posted on the Internet or published in a newspaper or put in a book. Anytime you disseminate to a third party a statement that is harmful to the reputation of an individual, and if that statement is not a truthful statement, you may be liable for defamation.... But if it's a truthful statement, then you can't prove defamation."

Volkenannt says he made some adjustments to his Web site after the first letter arrived from Whittaker's lawyers -- one complaint by the company was that some of the photos were taken in the midst of construction but the Web site did not say so. Volkenannt also says he has no plans for further changes and no plans to take the Web site down. He says he would welcome a lawsuit from the builder.

"They're going to sue me for defamation of character? Hell, I wish they would," he says. "I wish they would bring it on, because I'd like to see 12 of my peers tell me I'm wrong and they're right."

Related Links:
Walt Volkenannt's Web sites regarding his disagreement with Whittaker Homes:
http://members.xoom.com/hopemo/BuiltWithPride.htm
http://lot369.homestead.com/files/gooddesign.htm
http://mywhittakerhome.homepage.com/index.html

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