Tiny houses causing big problems

Tiny houses causing big problems »Play Video

A businessman selling tiny houses in Salem has also built a long history of business deals gone wrong.

A customer, Trina Foster, contacted the Problem Solvers for help after dealing with the business, currently going by the name of Zoe Cottages. 

She said she paid a deposit of $4,500 on three small cottages she was hoping to turn into a shop. She said she saw some red flags in during the business dealings and asked for a refund, but the owner of the business, Joe O'Connor, refused to give it back to her.

Foster said the O'Connor told her the cottages were part of a project to help homeless people, but funding had not come through and he needed to sell the houses.

Posts online show that O'Connor claimed to be in partnership with the Salvation Army, connecting homeless people with tiny houses to help solve the problem of homelessness.

 But a Salvation Army spokesperson said that is not true and there is no partnership.

 "I feel like I need some Pepto Bismol. I need an Alka Seltzer," said Foster. "I just want my money back!"

Foster said she noticed other problems: The business was not licensed, the purchase order had a wrong name and a higher price than they agreed on, and O'Connor began extending the delivery date of cottages.

The purchase order said delivery would be within seven days of the date on the order. But Foster said O'Connor later told her he would deliver in 15 days at the earliest and said he was leaving the country.

"There's just too many things that are not adding up," said Foster. "'A' is not connecting to 'B' here."

The Problem Solvers set out to find O'Connor. His showroom is just a few tiny houses sitting in an empty lot in Salem. A sign shows the name "Zoe Cottages," a website and a phone number.

The address on his website leads to a post office box.

The Problem Solvers called O'Connor, but he gave few answers. He said he was leaving the country and hung up the phone.

The Problem Solvers found a pattern of problems in O'Connor's past. People around the country report giving O'Connor thousands of dollars for projects he never finished.

In Salem in 1998, investors paid O'Connor money for a sports complex that never opened.

Another O'Connor soccer plex failed in Yakima the same year.

In Kalamazoo, Mich., a community sports leader said O'Connor still owes about $900,000 for a 2002 sports complex project that fell apart.

He said O'Connor ended up under arrest at one point in that case.

In Huntington Beach, Calif., the city sued O'Connor in 2004, saying they paid him almost a million dollars to develop a complex he did not complete.

The Problem Solvers finally tracked down O'Connor in person at his street corner showroom.

The first question was about Foster's refund.

O'Connor claimed Foster's contract says the deposit was non-refundable.

However, the contract Foster showed did not say the deposit was non-refundable.

"No comment, okay?" said O'Connor, when he was informed that Foster's document did not say the deposit was non-refundable.

O'Connor was asked about his history of problems.

"I said, 'Thank you very much,'" O'Connor said. "That's all I have to say."

He left the outdoor showroom lot, got in his car and drove away.

Later, O'Connor sent a long e-mail in which he said that the other parties were at fault for the problematic business deals. The Problem Solvers asked him for evidence of his claims, but he has not yet responded.

Foster wonders if she will ever see her $4,500 again.

"You should always listen to that gut feeling," she said. "If it doesn't feel right, do not sign that paperwork."