Action News Investigation: Delaware woman suing Habitat for Humanity for negligence after home burns down

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Friday, October 25, 2019
Delaware woman suing Habitat for Humanity for negligence after home burned down
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Delaware woman suing Habitat for Humanity for negligence after home burned down. Chad Pradelli has more on Action News at 11 p.m. on October 24, 2019.

WILMINGTON, Delaware (WPVI) -- Habitat for Humanity's mission is to provide affordable housing to those in need. But now a Delaware woman is suing the nonprofit for negligence after her home burned down.

She turned to 6abc Action News investigative reporter Chad Pradelli for help.

The ordeal began when a fire ripped through 44 E. 22nd Street in Wilmington and quickly spread to several adjacent units, including Susan Sours' rental two doors down.

"I lost a house," Sours said.

The fire marshal ruled the fire started in a vacant home owned by Habitat for Humanity. It was one of three owned by the non-profit on the block.

Habitat had insurance, Sours did not.

Sours said, "I don't have insurance because the property got vandalized and the insurance company wouldn't insure the property until certain repairs were completed. I didn't want to go in debt so I did the repairs as I went along."

She said those repairs had been completed shortly before the fire.

Tenants were even living in the home. Sours said she was awaiting an insurance inspection to secure coverage.

"You go to Habitat looking to be reimbursed for the damages?" asked reporter Chad Pradelli.

"Correct. Habitat for Humanity says it has no insurance," said Sours.

Sours persisted. After weeks of research, Sours said she tracked down Habitat's insurance company, Chubb, the world's largest publicly traded insurer. But the company denied coverage of the Habitat fire because of inadequate coverage stating the Habitat home where the fire originated "was abandoned."

Sours thought it was a bit hypocritical.

"If this was reversed and it was was my property where the fire originated, you'd be coming after me," she told them.

And Sours said the city delivered another blow after it cited her for over a dozen violations caused by the fire.

Licenses and Inspections gave her just two weeks to do the repairs or demolish the property.

She couldn't afford it, so the city demolished it and slapped a lien on the property. A year later, the city threatened sheriff's sale. She borrowed $13,000 to pay off the lien.

And here's a twist: Habitat really wants Sours' property.

Before the fire, Sours said Habitat made multiple offers to buy it. She said the highest bid was $26,000.

"You kind of have them, hostage, right now?" asked Pradelli

"Correct and that's my bargaining chip," Sours says.

In January of last year, Habitat along with Mayor Mike Purzycki, a former developer, announced grand plans to build six new affordable homes, one of which would sit on Sours' land. She said Habitat has continued to make offers since the fire.

Sours said Habitat is offering $13,000, which was the cost of demolition.

"And they want the land," Sours said.

New Castle County Habitat for Humanity CEO Kevin Smith told Action News he doesn't believe Habitat is responsible for the fire damages, despite acknowledging squatters repeatedly broke into the property. He declined our request for an on-camera interview, but said Sours should've had insurance.

"I just want to be recouped," said Sours.

Sours is suing Habitat for negligence alleging the non-profit failed to monitor and secure the home where the fire started.

Recently, a judge ordered both sides to mediate.

Sours said Habitat offered $30,000, but it's far less than what she needs to make her financially whole again.