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Eaten out of house and home

Robert and Gina Gordon eat out a lot these days. Even the atmosphere of a cheap restaurant beats staring at the chewed-up ceiling beams that line the Gordons' living and dining rooms.

Besides, it's no fun washing dishes in the bathroom sink.

For two months, the Gordons have been confined to two downstairs bedrooms in a $165,000 waterfront home they bought in October. Old termite damage is so extensive that a city building inspector has declared the rest of the house uninhabitable.

So the Gordons' refrigerator and microwave sit right outside their bedroom, like a makeshift kitchen.

"I feel like I am camping out. We still have stuff packed away in boxes," Gina Gordon, 26, said.

On Friday, the Gordons sued Billy D. and Nancy E. Worth, the couple who sold them the house, and Cameron Termite and Pest Control, the company that performed a pre-sale termite inspection.

The Gordons discovered the damage during renovations, about a month after buying the house, Robert Gordon said.

A previous owner must have known about the damage, because the ceiling beams are bolstered by 2-by-4s, which are bolted together right through the beam. Whoever made that repair then covered the beams with new ceiling panels.

Now, the entire roof and ceiling must be replaced at a cost of $40,000 to $50,000, Robert Gordon said.

The lawsuit said the Worths fraudulently concealed the termite damage in order to sell the four-bedroom home. But Nancy Worth said any repairs must have occurred before she and her husband bought the house in 1990.

"We didn't know anything about it," Worth said. "As far as we knew, the house was in perfect condition when we sold it."

When the termite inspector checked out the house, "everything looked okay. There was no infestation," Worth said. "I never thought another thing about it.

"I feel so badly for these people. This man is such a nice person. I liked his wife. They were very young."

The Gordons, who own Quik Cash III pawn shop in Pinellas Park, first noticed the Redington Beach home more than a year ago. The yard was large, it had a dock and a second-story bedroom.

"We really wanted to be on the water," Gina Gordon said.

The negotiated sale price of $165,000 was modest, considering the house was assessed for tax purposes at $172,000.

The Worths had bought the house three years earlier for $177,000 because they wanted a lot of space, Nancy Worth said. Between them, the Worths had five children, plus grandchildren, "and we liked the idea of a family home," she said.

"The kids would come and go. At one point, our daughter and her three children moved in."

After a while, though, the family home concept wore thin, she said. "It's like we were a hotel, and it was very expensive keeping these families here. We had a waiting list of kids wanting to move in."

The house proved hard to sell, Worth said, because the waterway was so low outside their house. Sometimes at low tide, there was no water under the dock. "People would say, "Gee, what a great house, but why do I want to live here if I can't have a boat?' It would discourage one after another."

The Gordons had other ideas for the house. They planned to redo the kitchen and knock out a downstairs wall. Their renovations created an opening in the ceiling, which revealed the damaged beams. When they took down other ceiling panels, they found damage all over, Gina Gordon said. The stairs to the second story and the wooden floor under the upstairs carpet also were damaged.

Most of the downstairs was covered by what Floridians call a "flat roof," which has a very slight pitch. Roof sheeting sits directly on top of the ceiling beams. Drywall or other paneling is attached underneath the beams. There is no attic where someone could check for termites.

"The ceiling joists are completely decayed to the point to where they could collapse," said R.

B. Coates, building inspector for Redington Beach. The Gordons consulted him when they discovered the damage and he tagged the house as mostly uninhabitable.

Cameron Termite and Pest Control's owner did not return a telephone call. According to a standard disclaimer on the inspection report, Cameron checked only "visible and accessible" areas and did not draw conclusions about structural damage.

Clearwater attorney Jawdet Rubaii, who represents the Gordons, said the disclaimer won't absolve Cameron if the inspection was flawed.

"We are not talking about one beam being rotted out, we are talking about severe damage where the property was condemned," Rubaii said.

"They were relying on this man. We will have to take his deposition and see how reliable he was. What exactly did he do that day? Where did he look and where didn't he look?"