Fort Worth Couple Still Fighting City Over Home Demolished by Accident

PHOTO: David Underwoods house, left, had been in his family for decades before the city mistakenly demolished it, right.
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Want to see the Fort Worth, Texas, house David and Valerie Underwood planned to move into next year? You'll need a healthy imagination -- the lake view is intact, but the 1,296-sq-foot single-family home? Well, that's gone.

Believe it or not, last summer it was demolished -- by accident, by their own city.

On a tour of the property, which had been Underwood's grandmother's home, David Underwood told ABC News, "The bedrooms were back on that edge of the house." He pointed to a now empty corner of the lot that had been David's grandmother's home.

The Underwoods made the shocking discovery on a routine drive-by to check the condition of their lawn.

"I said, We'd better go by the property and see if we need to mow. And, he's like, O.K.," Valerie explained.

"I'm focused down here by the street and I'm lookin' at the grass and the plants going, 'O.K. ... I've got mowing and then weeding and then edging to do," David said.

But then, his wife tapped him and said, "It's totally gone."

"Valerie says, 'David the house is gone.' And you look out there and it's a slick slab. You know you can't see anything," David said. "Disbelief. I was just shocked ... how do you tear down the wrong house?"

RELATED: Fort Worth Couple's Home Mistakenly Demolished

The house designated to be demolished was next door, at 9708 Watercress. But somehow the city messed up, despite the Underwood mailbox that clearly indicated their address, 9716.

"And in today's world of GPS, when you can spot something the size of a nickel, I would think that there would be a failsafe," David said.

Think this was a onetime occurrence? Think again.

"It happens more than you think," real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran said. "You could probably find at least one home wrecked in just about every city across the United States, by mistake. And how is it always explained? Human error."

Andre Hall in Pittsburgh lost the home he had agreed to purchase. It had been removed from the city's condemned list, and Hall had spent weeks fixing it, from the ground up.

"I was like, 'Oh, somebody's house is gettin' knocked down, it can't be mine.' I drove around the block, and came back, and it was my house.... I was just in shock," Hall told "20/20". "I have a court order stating, Do not demolish it."

"When they destroyed the house, you destroyed my dreams, my daughter's dreams," Hall said.

Pittsburgh's city demolition manager Paul Loy told "20/20" the city did send "a letter to the contractor, directing him not to demolish this property, and he went ahead and did it anyway."

A lawsuit with the contractor was settled by the city earlier this year. The attorney for the contractor said his client contended that the city failed to inform him the demolition was to be halted.

But for Hall, nobody is helping him reclaim his dream.

"Nobody wants to take the blame. The contractor points the finger at the city, the city points the finger at the contractor. But nobody wants to stand up to it ... and say "Oh, it's our fault, we'll handle it, let's rebuild," Hall said.

And over in Little Rock, Ark., a man lost his property after it was accidentally demolished when the neighbors' house was slated for tear-down. The city-hired contractor admitted it was his mistake.

But in this case, the contractor's attorney had a surprising take on the situation, claiming his client actually did homeowner Jessie Vernon a favor.

"I think Mr. Vernon actually benefited from what my client did," Mark Riable, the contractor's attorney said. "This was not a house Mr. Vernon lived in ... it was scheduled to be demolished, eventually. My client just hastened what was probably inevitable."

The city had previously told Vernon to get a permit to fix up the house or demolish it. He claims he was planning to repair the house to rent it out.

Tom Carpenter, city Attorney for Little Rock, claimed the city will "do everything we can to help," but that the fault lies with the contractor.

"The city's contract was not to tear down the wrong house," Carpenter said. "The city's contract was to tear down the right house ... the people we hired didn't do what we hired them to do. No, I don't think that we have a legal responsibility for that."

But don't worry, the city was offering to be a "good witness" for Vernon in his lawsuit against the demolition company.

For Vernon, that was little reassurance.

"It would cost me money to sue. And I shouldn't have to pay a dime for something that ... already caused damage to me," Vernon said.

According to New Jersey contractor Lou Santora, who has properly demolished dozens of homes, with all the red tape and protocol involved, human error shouldn't even be possible.

Consider the paperwork. "Letters from your asbestos company, letters from the gas company, there's letters from the cable TV provider. There's neighbor notification letters, as a courtesy. There's letters from the sewers company. There's letters from the water company," Santora said. "If you're a competent contractor, things like this shouldn't happen."

Talk is all David Underwood has heard, even though the city admitted it made the error.

In a statement to "20/20," the city said it has "...reviewed City policies and procedures and as a result added a series of additional checks..." But months later, it still hasn't paid the Underwoods.

In fact, even though the house was appraised by the county for years at $82,000 for tax purposes, after the city knocked the house down, the city ordered a new appraisal, in which the price was knocked down to $25,000.

Chad Fillmore, a lawyer for the Underwoods, said they couldn't build anything "close to what they lost" for that price.

When the city declined to speak to "20/20" on camera, ABC News went to the city council's open public meeting to ask for an update. The Underwoods' city council representative told ABC News that the six-month delay is "probably not reasonable," but Fort Worth is negotiating with the family, and he hopes they will soon have a figure agreeable to both parties.

The Underwoods said they still hope they can salvage their dream house and rebuild, but the memories they had -- those have been demolished.

"We're going to have to build a totally new house now," David said. "We're going to do that, but it's just not going to have any kind of special. There's not going to be that tie to my childhood ... If I'd want it torn down, I'd have torn it down."

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