The Biggest Scandals That Completely Rocked HGTV

The following references sexual misconduct allegations.

Since the network's launch in December 1994, HGTV has endured a number of controversies that have shaken up the feel-good image of the home improvement and lifestyle channel. Over the years, the network has seen its fair share of less-than-perfect stars, dissatisfied homeowners, and behind-the-scenes leaks.

One complication that HGTV cannot seem to escape is lawsuits from disgruntled homeowners. According to a 2022 report in Realtor Magazine, at least 12 lawsuits have been filed alleging that the network contractors provided shoddy work or did not give homeowners what they wanted, despite the work almost always being done at the expense of the homeowners.

While some HGTV personalities have come and gone, there are others who have amassed enormous net worths and built real estate empires. The network is without a doubt a massive platform, and as some HGTV stars know all too well, the spotlight can be relentless. Details about their marriages and divorces, legal battles, and family lives keep the public interested and streaming the network's shows and spinoffs. Although "Flip or Flop" host Tarek El Moussa told Elle Decor that the general vibe of the network's shows and stars is positive, HGTV is not without its drama. Let's take a look at some of the biggest scandals that rocked the network.

A makeup artist accused Carter Oosterhouse of coercion

HGTV's family-friendly image took a hit when Carter Oosterhouse, lifestyle expert and star of the 2008 series "Carter Can," was accused of sexual coercion by a former employee in 2017. As reported by The Hollywood Reporter, Kailey Kaminsky alleged that he propositioned her multiple times to perform oral sex when she worked as his makeup artist in 2008. She stated that she continually declined until he threatened her job. After she gave in to his request, he allegedly continued to proposition her every time they worked together, and she became increasingly uncomfortable with the dynamic until she had to be hospitalized for a stress-induced stomach ulcer.

Oosterhouse, who has been married to actor Amy Smart since 2011, denied the accusations, maintaining he and Kaminsky had a consensual relationship. He also went on to claim they had over a dozen consensual sexual interactions. "I would have never done anything that I was not sure was mutually agreeable," Oosterhouse told The Hollywood Reporter. 

Although Oosterhouse wasn't working with HGTV at the time that the allegations surfaced, the network was quick to address the news. "While we have not been in production with Carter Oosterhouse on an HGTV series for many years, we take matters such as this very seriously," HGTV said in a statement, per People. "We do not tolerate harassment of any kind."

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Tarek El Moussa and Christina Hall's relationship imploded

In 2013, HGTV introduced us to not one, but two house-flipping power couples: Chip and Joanna Gaines on "Fixer Upper" and Tarek El Moussa and Christina Hall on "Flip or Flop." While both duos found great success with their respective shows early on, the two paths diverged significantly.

Shortly after "Flip or Flop" debuted, the former couple experienced some major life changes. After being diagnosed  with both thyroid and testicular cancer in 2013, El Moussa underwent treatment. Hall and El Moussa welcomed their second child in 2015. The following year, they decided to separate. Per People, the separation announcement came a few months after police responded to a call involving a gun at the El Moussa home. Though El Moussa downplayed the incident as a misunderstanding initially, they eventually cited it as the beginning of the end of their relationship.

The pair continued to make the HGTV show "Flip or Flop" while they weathered divorce and remarriages simultaneously. As El Moussa said on "Today" in 2018, "It's part of who we are and what we do, and for us to just throw everything away, it just wasn't worth it." They stuck with the show for a while, but in March 2022 — a little less than a year after they got into a particularly nasty on-set argument — El Moussa and Hall announced "Flip or Flop" was done.

The anti-LGBTQ house flippers who were canceled

HGTV has long been inclusive of the LGBTQ community and has proudly featured LGBTQ hosts, highlighted LGBTQ homeowners, and promoted LGBTQ partners through their platforms. So when their inclusive image was threatened by a pair of house-flipping brothers, the network took quick action to shut down production on a show that they had already publicly committed to.

Per ABC News, brothers David and Jason Benham were slated to join the fall 2014 lineup with their show "Flip it Forward" when a liberal watchdog blog amplified David's past anti-LGBTQ comments. At a 2012 prayer rally, David said he wanted to "stop homosexuality and its agenda that is attacking the nation." The following day, HGTV announced on Facebook that they would not move forward with the Benham brothers' show.

David acknowledged that his 2012 comments had caused him trouble in the past, but insisted that HGTV already knew about it. "We explained it to them and we gave the proper context for my statements," David said to ABC News. "And they looked behind our eyes and said, 'they don't have any hate in their hearts for anyone, so we are going to give them a show.'" The brothers said HGTV told them that the cancellation was a business decision and gave no further explanation.

The House Hunters process isn't what it seems

When the curtain was pulled back on HGTV juggernaut "House Hunters," fans were stunned to find out just how much of the process is totally contrived. In 2012, "House Hunters" contestant and homeowner Bobi Jensen divulged on a blog called Hooked on Houses that she had already purchased the home she "chose" for the show. On top of that, the other two houses belonged to friends who were down to go along with the ruse and pretend their own homes were on the market.

Jensen acknowledged that her story may not be how the show always operates because they had difficulty finding for-sale homes to view, but her account forced a transparent response from the network. A publicist for "House Hunters" clarified in a statement to Entertainment Weekly that sometimes the homeowner has already purchased a home by the time the crew is ready to film, so they have to stage some of the scenes. "We're making a television show, so we manage certain production and time constraints, while honoring the home buying process," the statement read.

In 2012, The Washington Post reported that "House Hunters" had as many as 40 production and camera teams around the globe at once to keep episodes coming, so managing the filming of that many homebuyers is understandably complicated. The show's fans moved on quickly from the controversy, though, and "House Hunters" did not suffer in popularity in the long run. "It's happy television. It's so safe. It's like an old sweater," executive producer Terri Murray told the outlet.

Chip Gaines was sued for fraud

When Chip and Joanna Gaines joined HGTV in 2013, they had no idea how big their empire would become in such a short time. In less than a decade, the network helped turn them from a modestly successful house-flipping team into a mammoth lifestyle and media brand. But in 2017, Chip's former friends and partners in the Texas real-estate company, Magnolia Realty, filed a lawsuit. They alleged Chip fraudulently bought out their shares in the company without telling them he had partnered with HGTV for a show.

According to KWTX, Waco attorneys John Lewis and Richard Clark sought a $1 million payout and a return of their ownership stakes or fair compensation for what they would have earned had they not sold their stakes back to the reality star. Chip then countersued.

Chip Gaines arranged the buyout — $2,500 for each partner — only two days before he announced the HGTV deal, but he maintained that there was no way he could have predicted the sensational popularity of "Fixer Upper." Chip was especially critical of his ex-friends for not reaching out to him privately to resolve the matter before taking it to court. In 2020, the judge tossed out the lawsuit against Chip Gaines; in 2023, the countersuit was settled out of court. 

The Windy City Rehab legal drama

In 2019, HGTV introduced "Windy City Rehab," a series that followed the team of Alison Victoria Gramenos and Donovan Eckhardt as they flipped properties around Chicago. Although Gramenos and Eckhardt started out as friends, things took a turn when Season 2 rolled around.

On top of Gramenos and Eckhardt getting hit with multiple lawsuits from unhappy homeowners, Eckhardt also was in hot water with the City of Chicago for cutting serious corners. According to Architectural Digest, his team reportedly worked without obtaining necessary permits, didn't adhere to safety codes, skipped inspections — the list goes on. His company lost permit privileges and his contractor's license was suspended. Gramenos wasn't happy with this development. By the middle of the second season, Eckhardt parted ways with the series. Per the Chicago Sun-Times, he filed his own $2.2 million defamation and libel lawsuit against Discovery Inc.'s subsidiary Scripps and the production company, claiming that the show made him out to be the villain. Per The Hollywood Reporter, Eckhardt and his attorney called out Gramenos' claims about the situation specifically. "They knew they were relying upon an unreliable source based upon her prior false public statements and based on the fact that she'd been sued multiple times for fraud," Eckhardt's lawyer said. 

Unfortunately for Eckhardt, Scripps won the battle. The judge ruled that the network is protected by the First Amendment when it comes to the show's portrayal of Eckhardt and maintained that there was no proof of "malice" on the company's end. 

Fixer Upper was fined by the EPA

On their way to the top, Chip and Joanna Gaines' ride to fame has involved multiple controversies. Another setback came in 2018 when Magnolia Waco Properties, LLC, the parent company of "Fixer Upper," was assessed a fine by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to the tune of $40,000. The EPA also required them to shell out $160,000 for lead-related cleanup costs. As Vox reported at the time, the company was dinged for violating the Toxic Substances Control Act and the Lead, Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule.

Given the serious risks that come with lead exposure, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the EPA has strict rules when it comes to dealing with older homes that contain lead paint. Chip and Joanna's company got in trouble after failing to adhere to a number of these rules in nearly three dozen home renovations. According to the report, they did not post signage to keep crews safe, hire a lead-certified renovator, properly cover or close off work areas to minimize exposure to paint chips, or educate homeowners about potential lead contamination. 

A company spokesman, John Marsicano, stressed that the Gaineses took the violation very seriously and wanted to do the right thing for their crew, homeowners, and the community. Per The New York Times, Marsicano said in a statement that Magnolia Homes would continue "to be proactive with our efforts to ensure total compliance moving forward and remain committed to raising awareness in our community and our industry."

A lawsuit against Love It or List It

For decades, the network has featured impressive home remodels that keep viewers coming back for more. However, HGTV renovations don't always hit the mark, and there have been more than a few dissatisfied homeowners. Per The Charlotte Observer, "Love It or List It" contestants Deena Murphy and Timothy Sullivan of North Carolina filed a lawsuit against production company Big Coat TV and the show's chosen contracting company in 2016. According to Murphy and Sullivan, the work not only fell short but cost them more than they bargained for.

According to the couple, out of the $140,000 they paid to Big Coat TV the job, allegedly $85,000 went toward the renovations, whereas the rest went to the production of the show. Murphy and Sullivan also voiced concern about the choice of contractors because of unfavorable reviews they had seen on Angie's List. They weren't given a choice, and the couple claimed that Big Coat TV's business model left them with subpar work on the home that made it unlivable, including low-quality materials, water-damaged floors, and windows that had been painted shut.

Following the remodel, Murphy and Sullivan were not able to sell the house without having to spend more money on fixing the damage, so they took the production company to court. Big Coat TV also countersued the couple for breach of contract, libel, slander, and product disparagement. According to The News & Observer, the dispute was eventually settled out of court. 

The American flag tablecloth debacle

HGTV's patriotism was called into question in 2013 after an online tutorial recommended using an American flag as a tablecloth for the Fourth of July. The backlash was immediate, and the network removed the post and issued a formal apology for the suggestion, which would be in violation of the U.S. Flag Code. Specifically, section 176 of the code states that the flag must not touch anything beneath it or be displayed in a way that it can be easily soiled.

In a Facebook post, the network stated,"This was a regrettable use of our flag and it never should have happened. ... We want to assure our fans that HGTV is proud of the American flag and everything it symbolizes for our people."

The controversy also raised questions of flag etiquette in a blog, in which the author suggested that the average American simply doesn't understand the significance of the flag, and the distinction between flag-like designs and the respect due to the actual flag. "They haven't sacrificed. They haven't lost friends or family. To them it is an easy symbol [sic] love of country and freedom — but not a symbol due the utmost respect," wrote the author.

The Ellen's Design Challenge disqualification

The Ellen DeGeneres-hosted HGTV show "Ellen's Design Challenge" was an opportunity for furniture designers to compete for the grand prize of $100,000. However, the show's finale was plagued with drama when it was announced that the winner, Tim McClellan, had failed to meet the requirement of producing an original design. After production was made aware of an existing piece of furniture that looked like the desk McClellan created, he was disqualified and his win was revoked.

HGTV allowed the scandal to play out in the show by showing McClellan's win only to tack an update to the end of the finale. The runner-up, Katie Stout, found out on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" she was the new winner due to the disqualification. 

As The Washington Post noted, fans weren't totally on board with the way the disqualification played out on the show. What's more, some viewers wondered if a more thorough inspection of the pieces ahead of the finale would've prevented the messy and embarrassing flip-flop. McClellan had the chance to defend himself on DeGeneres' talk show and chalked it up to an innocent error. "Preparing for this competition and over the last 20 years, I've looked at millions and millions of pieces of furniture and it's quite possible and looks as if that piece got somehow lodged in my memory," he said.