What happens when the housing market takes a nosedive and a deal goes bad between a contractor and a developer? Lawsuits, my friend. Lawsuits.
These properties form the crux of a $3 million-plus dispute between R.L. Beyer Construction and Tom Hickman.
In January of 2002, when the local real estate and housing markets were turning upwards, builder R.L. Beyer of R.L. Beyer Construction and developer Tom Hickman entered into an agreement to buy and develop 10 parcels of land called Azalea Property, according to the complaint. The two entered into a similar agreement in 2004 with 12 other parcels called the Moseley Property. They were no strangers to such agreements or each other, having teamed up on the Kellytown [see page 27 for more on that project] and Huntley developments, among others.
But the Azalea and Moseley agreements are now the focus of a lawsuit filed by Beyer on August 24 and a countersuit by Hickman on September 21. Each lawsuit asks for over $3 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
Beyer’s lawsuit alleges that he and Hickman entered into “a joint venture and/or partnership” to purchase and develop the Azalea and Moseley properties. The suit alleges that Beyer provided “significant sums” of money to finance the purchase of the property with the understanding that Hickman would walk it through the extensive approval process in Charlottesville.
Hickman denies any such agreement in his countersuit, calling the agreement a “preliminary understanding” under which Beyer would purchase half the lots once they were developed. The countersuit denies any partnership. “Plaintiffs should be required to produce each and every agreement that it relies on to show ownership interest in any of the parcels,” it says, the legal equivalent of “Oh yeah? Prove it.”
Lawyers for both Beyer and Hickman could not be reached by press time.
The situation grew hairier in 2007, as the housing market began to soften. In January, Hickman offered to sell his interest in Azalea and Moseley for $600,000. Beyer then paid $350,000 in what the lawsuits called “earnest money.” That deal fell through. Beyer alleges that after an engineer’s report found that Hickman’s representations about how the properties could be developed to be “inaccurate and unverifiable.”
Hickman countered that Beyer reneged on the deal, then torpedoed an agreement that Hickman had in August 2007 to sell the properties to an independent buyer for $3.5 million. Beyer countered that the property wasn’t his to sell in the first place, and on January 8, he filed seven more counts against Hickman—fraud and breach of contract among them—for other deals involving Madison Place and Dale Avenue properties.
And so on.
Both Hickman and Beyer have requested jury trials, so unless a settlement is reached, it could be up to 12 poor citizens to sort it all out. Unless, of course, the market picks up between now and then and everyone suddenly finds a way to just get along.
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