Business

Congressman Pittenger's latest opponent is his millionaire CEO neighbor

Fresh off a contentious congressional primary, Rep. Robert Pittenger has jumped into a new fight: a lawsuit against his neighbor, LendingTree CEO Doug Lebda.
Fresh off a contentious congressional primary, Rep. Robert Pittenger has jumped into a new fight: a lawsuit against his neighbor, LendingTree CEO Doug Lebda.

Fresh off a contentious congressional primary that he lost, U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger has jumped into a new fight: a lawsuit against his neighbor, LendingTree CEO Doug Lebda.

In a complaint filed this month, Pittenger and his wife, Suzanne, allege that Lebda violated design guidelines and covenants in the building of a new home in the upscale Quail Hollow subdivision in South Charlotte.

The suit filed in Mecklenburg County Superior Court also names Lebda's wife, Megan; the Gleneagles Homes Association; and association officials. It asks the court to revoke the current building plans and seeks punitive damages.

In a statement, the Lebdas said they were disappointed with the Pittengers' decision to file a lawsuit and said they had made adjustments that aimed to address their concerns.

"We feel confident that we are in compliance with the covenants of the neighborhood, and we’re hopeful that this will be resolved quickly," they said.

Officials with the homeowners association either could not be reached or declined to comment.

Pittenger filed the lawsuit just weeks after losing his Republican primary race to challenger Mark Harris. Now he is taking on a big name in the Charlotte business community.

Lebda, who founded online lending marketplace LendingTree in 1996, was the highest paid CEO in 2017 among companies based in the Charlotte area. He received total compensation last year of $59.6 million, mostly in performance-based stock options.

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Doug Lebda

The Pittengers bought their Quail Hollow home in 2006, according to the suit. They put it up for sale in 2016 for nearly $7 million, and it's currently listed for $5.25 million, according to the Peters & Associates website.

Real estate records show that the Lebdas bought their neighboring property in 2016 for about $2.8 million. They started construction on their home in late 2017 after receiving approval from the association's architectural control committee, according to the complaint.

The suit, however, contends the plans were approved even though they were "not compatible with the scheme of development, design guidelines, or restrictive covenants" of the neighborhood. The suit says the Pittengers noticed problems during the framing of the house, including violations of the 2 1/2 story height limit, the setback and the maximum four bays for the garage.

The complaint, which alleges negligence and breach of fiduciary duty, says the Lebdas have refused to make changes and the association has not enforced covenants.

In a statement, Robert Pittenger's lawyer, Kenneth Davies, said the Pittengers are looking to sell their home because they are empty nesters who are downsizing.

"It is now not possible to present the house for sale because it is no longer appealing to a buyer with this towering structure hovering over their home and outdoor living area," Davies said.

In their statement, the Lebdas noted the home had been for sale before they began construction on their house.

"We have made every reasonable attempt to address their concerns including reconfiguring and reconstructing the side of the house that faces the Pittenger’s property, ordering and installing new, smaller and higher-set windows on the side of the house that faces their property, and even offered to purchase several inches of the Pittengers' property to abide by the (homeowner association) covenants," the statement said. "We did all this, knowing that we were and are not in violation of anything."

Davies said the Pittengers tried to resolve the issue privately but determined they had no other option other than to bring litigation.

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