Karns landowner says contractor never started work on driveway

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – A Knox County landowner is frustrated that the man he hired to build a new driveway after paying a third of the contract hasn’t started work.

John Keller bought three and a half acres of wooded property in the Karns community at a Knox County tax auction in 2014. He had the dilapidated structure that once stood at this site torn down last year

“I’m going to divide it up into three lots and sell lots,” said Keller.

Before Keller subdivides the property, there is a problem with this driveway on the east side of the site. The drive leads to a house at the top of the hill that’s not part of his property.

“This driveway doesn’t have what is called joint-permanent easement. I own the driveway, but Betty uses it,” he said.

His neighbor Betty at the top of the hill uses the driveway everyday. When the property is subdivided, Keller was told the drive will have to be realigned. He needs the work done now before the property is parceled off.

The driveway exits onto West Emory Road. The exit isn’t safe. Years ago this hump on Emory didn’t matter, but it does now.

John Keller
John Keller

“You don’t have sufficient line of sight when you are pulling out,” said Keller about the blind hill.

As a remedy to the problem,  Keller looked at the west side of his property. He proposed that a new driveway be built once the underbrush and trees are removed.

Keller’s proposal for the new drive was presented before the Metropolitan Planning Commission last month. Pleased by the MPC’s unanimous approval, Keller has one year to finish the work. Out on the site, he’s hit a snag. The contractor he hired months ago never started the job.

“I ended up signing a contract with Eric Chesney,” he said.

Keller found Eric Chesney on Craigslist. “Excavation work” is emphasized in the ad. In the contract signed nearly three months ago, the cost was set at $6,000. Keller paid $2,500 upfront.

“He was eager to get started,” said Keller. “No work was ever done.”

Keller has pages of text messages over a six week period between Chesney and himself.

“He couldn’t make the drive per the specifications in the contract.  He said it was too steep,” said Keller.

Keller said he asked Chesney to look into alternatives, but the two were never able to meet up. Fed up with the delay, Keller called Chesney.

“I’ve requested my money back for the materials. I paid $2,500 for materials. I have yet to get it back,” said Keller.

Chesney did not agree to an interview, but told WATE 6 On Your Side in an email that he went to Keller’s home on the seventh or eighth of January and returned $2,000 in cash. Chesney said he was keeping $500 for the work he had done on the site and that he had made several trips to the property when Keller wasn’t there.

Keller said he was out of state on January 7 and 8 and did not receive $2,000 from Chesney. As proof, he showed a temporary Louisiana hunting license in his his name purchased on January 6. He went to Louisiana with his son he said and didn’t return to Tennessee until the ninth.

When we contacted Cheney in a text message he said, “I’m not exactly certain of the date I returned the cash. I didn’t write it down.”

“It’s in God’s hands. I have a peace about it. I hope he doesn’t do this to anyone else, but it’s in God’s hands,” said Keller.

Chesney maintains he’s done nothing wrong and returned the money, but doesn’t remember when. Under state law, if a contractor doesn’t start work within 90 days and refuses to acknowledge a certified letter demanding that the contract be honored, that contractor could face criminal charges.

However, Chesney claims he returned the down payment, even though Keller says he didn’t. This case could end up in court.

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