Inside the public controversies and backlash faced by 'Fixer Upper' stars Chip and Joanna Gaines

·13 min read
Chip and Joanna Gaines smile on a red carpet.
Magnolia Network creators Chip and Joanna Gaines have faced criticism since entering the public eye with their show "Fixer Upper."Cindy Ord / Staff / Getty Images
  • Homeowners featured on Magnolia Network's "Home Work" alleged the hosts ruined their homes.

  • It wasn't the first time Chip and Joanna Gaines have faced criticism since entering the public eye.

  • Chip was sued for $1 million in 2017 and the couple was fined for violating EPA lead-paint policies.

2016: The couple's pastor preached anti-LGBT beliefs.

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Chip and Joanna Gaines in 2017.Roy Rochlin/FilmMagic/Getty Images

In 2016, BuzzFeed published an investigation into Chip and Joanna Gaines' church, Antioch Community Church, and its pastor, Jimmy Seibert, following a video the couple filmed with him in which he referred to the Gaineses as his "good friends."

According to BuzzFeed, Seibert explicitly spoke out against same-sex marriage in a sermon following its legalization in 2015.

"This is a clear biblical admonition. So if someone were to say, 'Marriage is defined in a different way,' let me just say: They are wrong," Seibert said in his sermon, according to BuzzFeed. "God defined marriage, not you and I. God defined masculine and feminine, male and female, not you and I." He went on to say that "homosexuality is a sin."

BuzzFeed's article also noted that the Gaineses had never featured a same-sex couple on "Fixer Upper." The show was rebooted in 2021 for Discovery+, though a same-sex couple has yet to be featured at the time of writing.

BuzzFeed reported that HGTV shared a statement following the release of the article that said: "We don't discriminate against members of the LGBT community in any of our shows. HGTV is proud to have a crystal clear, consistent record of including people from all walks of life in its series."

According to Good Housekeeping, Chip responded to the article in a blog post that is now unavailable on the Magnolia website.

"Joanna and I have personal convictions," the blog post read, according to Good Housekeeping. "One of them is this: we care about you for the simple fact that you are a person, our neighbor on planet earth. It's not about what color your skin is, how much money you have in the bank, your political affiliation, sexual orientation, gender, nationality or faith."

Joanna seemed to address the accusations in a 2021 article published by The Hollywood Reporter.

"The accusations that get thrown at you, like you're a racist or you don't like people in the LGBTQ community, that's the stuff that really eats my lunch — because it's so far from who we really are," she told The Hollywood Reporter.

2016: Magnolia released a statement after "Fixer Upper" homeowners started turning their houses into rental properties.

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Some "Fixer Upper" homeowners have turned their homes into rental properties.Mireya Acierto/Contributor/Getty Images

In 2016, the Waco Tribune-Herald reported that multiple former "Fixer Upper" homeowners were turning their houses into rental properties for sites like Airbnb and VRBO.

Magnolia representative Brock Murphy told the outlet that "Fixer Upper" was going to change its contract to discourage people who intended to turn their homes into rentals from applying to the show.

"We have no problems with our clients' interest in using sites like VRBO and Airbnb to rent out their homes. In fact, we get it. But we are going to be more strict with our contracts involving 'Fixer Upper' clients moving forward," the statement read.

"We want to honor our national viewing audience. We want to do remodels for clients' homes. That's the true intent of our show, and we want to ensure that does not get lost in this new vacation rental trend," Murphy went on to say. "What started off with perfectly understandable intentions could cast a shadow of a doubt on the much bigger picture, and we are going to do our best to protect that moving forward."

But some of the homeowners who turned their houses into rentals told the Waco Tribune-Herald that they started renting out their homes full-time because they were getting unwanted attention from being on "Fixer Upper," with tourists driving by to peer at their homes, making them feel more comfortable having permanent residences elsewhere.

2016: The Gaineses' neighbor filed a $1 million lawsuit against the couple.

Chip and Joanna Gaines smile for a photo.
The neighbor filed a lawsuit over the use of an alleyway.NBC / Contributor / Getty Images

Chip and Joanna were sued for $1 million by their neighbor in 2016 because of a fence, as Country Living reported.

There is an alleyway next to the couple's Magnolia Market at the Silos in Waco, Texas, that they did not own at the time, as Country Living reported. The couple had a lease agreement with the owners of the alleyway that allowed shoppers to park there, but Daron Farmer bought the property in July 2016 and wanted to charge people $10 to park their cars in the space, according to the Waco Tribune-Herald.

The Waco Tribune-Herald reported that the Gaineses were in talks with Farmer to buy the lot in 2016, but when negotiations stalled, Chip erected a gate across the entrance to the alley, partially blocking access. Farmer then filed a lawsuit against the couple, according to the outlet.

The Gaineses offered to buy the property in 2017, which resulted in the lawsuit being dismissed, as KBTX reported. The outlet reported that the property was valued at approximately $777,000 at the time the Gaineses purchased it.

"I'm glad that Chip and I were able to resolve the case peacefully and remove it from the court system," Farmer told KBTX in 2017.

2017: Two of Chip's former business partners sued him for over $1 million.

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Chip's former business partners accused him of fraud.Joanna Gaines/Facebook

The Gaineses faced another lawsuit in 2017 when two of Chip's former business partners, John L. Lewis and Richard L. Clark, accused him of defrauding them and sued him for over $1 million, according to People.

Lewis, Clark, and Chip founded the Magnolia Realty together in 2007, the publication reported.

Lewis and Clark said that Chip pressured them into selling their shares of the company for just $2,500 each in May of 2013, without telling them the "insider information" that he and Joanna were filming "Fixer Upper" for HGTV, which would likely — and did — increase the value of the company, as USA Today reported.

"At a time when only the defendants knew that 'Fixer Upper' had been fast-tracked for a one-hour premiere on HGTV and was on the verge of radically changing their lives and business enterprises, Chip Gaines conspired to eliminate his business partners — notwithstanding their longstanding friendship — to ensure that he alone would profit from Magnolia Realty's association with 'Fixer Upper,'" the complaint stated, according to USA Today.

USA Today also reported that the complaint said Chip called the business "less than worthless" when asking them to sell their shares and that he threatened Clark via a text message to Lewis when he expressed hesitation to let his shares go.

Chip seemingly responded to the lawsuit on Twitter in 2017, writing: "I've had the same cell # 15 yrs.. same email for 20 yrs. No one called or emailed?"

A judge dismissed the lawsuit in February 2020, according to the Waco Tribune-Herald, and sealed the records of the case, including Chip's deposition on the matter.

"From the very beginning, we have been proactive in our efforts to present the undisputed facts in this case," John Marsicano, a spokesperson for the Gaineses, told the Waco Tribune-Herald at the time. "We're thankful that truth has prevailed and that these claims were rightfully dismissed in their entirety."

2017: "Fixer Upper" homeowners said they felt "deceived" by Magnolia Realty after a car crashed into their home.

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A suspected drunk driver crashed into the home.NBC/Getty Images

Homeowners Ken and Kelly Downs, who were featured on season three of "Fixer Upper," said they felt "deceived by the city of Waco and Magnolia Realty" after a suspected drunk driver crashed into their home on July 22, 2017, as the Waco Herald-Tribune reported.

Ken and Kelly were not injured by the vehicle, but the house was damaged, as the Waco assistant fire chief Don Yeager told the Waco Herald-Tribune.

"The yard is built up several feet, and he hit the embankment of the yard, apparently went airborne, and like a lot of older homes, this house was built up off the ground, so he cleared the rest of the yard," Yeager said. "He didn't hurt the hedges, but he took out the railing on the porch and went right into the window of the front room and hit an interior wall that might be a load-bearing wall."

Kelly told the Waco Herald-Tribune the experience added to their existing frustration with their home.

"We have been intimidated and harassed," she said. "People have complained about their taxes going up because we moved here. Store owners have complained about taxes."

Many residents credit the Gaineses and Magnolia with revitalizing Waco, but the newfound attention increased taxes and home prices, as Insider previously reported.

"There's a big problem here," Kelly said to the Waco Herald-Tribune. "It's not safe. This is a 'Fixer Upper' gone bad."

The couple also told the outlet they had reported suspicious activity and made complaints to the city, but they didn't get much of a response.

"It's like the Wild West here. There's been a lot of commotion coming from the bars and the store across the street," she went on to say. "It's been a problem from the beginning. We've lived here a year and a half and we feel deceived by the city of Waco and Magnolia Realty."

2018: The Gaineses were fined $40,000 for violating EPA lead-paint policies.

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The couple had to change their lead-safety practices.Brian Ach/Invision/AP

The Environmental Protection Agency fined Chip and Joanna Gaines because "renovations of older homes appearing in several seasons of 'Fixer Upper' reviewed by EPA did not depict the lead-safe work practices" typically required for renovations, according to an EPA settlement information sheet on the matter.

The EPA went on to say that it found 33 properties the Magnolia team worked on that were in violation of its lead-paint rules on five different counts through "information it obtained with Magnolia's cooperation."

Magnolia was fined a civil penalty of $40,000, and the settlement required the company to have lead-safe practices moving forward, as well as for Chip and Joanna to educate the public on lead safety using their platform.

The EPA's information sheet also said "Magnolia took immediate steps to ensure the compliance of its own operations."

2021: The Gaineses came under fire for donating to an anti-critical race theory politician.

Chip and Joanna Gaines Getty Images
Chip and Joanna Gaines donated to an anti-critical race theory politician.Rob Kim/Getty Images

Chip's sister, Shannon Braun, ran for the Grapevine-Colleyville ISD (GCISD) school board in Colleyville, Texas, in May of 2021.

Braun ran on an anti-critical race theory platform, saying it was "the single most divisive threat" to education, as the Dallas Observer reported. Critical race theory looks at racism systematically, examining how generations of racism and inequality still impact society today.

Chip and Joanna donated $1,000 to Braun's campaign, as Insider previously reported. The endorsement was listed on Braun's campaign website at one point, but that section of her site was taken down at the time of Insider's reporting.

Braun won the school board seat in June 2021, according to The Dallas Morning News.

Critical race theory was not part of the GCISD's curriculum at the time of Braun's campaign, as The Dallas Morning News reported, though a growing number of conservatives claim Texas school districts have plans to implement it.

Texas Governor Greg Abbot signed a bill into law in June that limits how educators can discuss current events and teach about the history of racism in America, as the Texas Tribune reported.

The Gaineses and Braun did not respond to Insider's request for comment on the matter in 2021.

2022: Magnolia Network temporarily pulled "Home Work" from its lineup after homeowners alleged hosts Andy and Candis Meredith ruined their houses.

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Magnolia Network temporarily pulled "Home Work" from its lineup.Brian Ach/AP

Chip and Joanna's Magnolia Network launched on cable on January 5.

On the day of the launch, homeowners from Andy and Candis Meredith's Magnolia show "Home Work" alleged that the Merediths ruined their houses.

Aubry Bennion, Teisha and Jeff Hawley, and Vienna and Rob Goates all spoke out about their "Home Work" experience on Instagram, as Insider previously reported.

The Utah homeowners said the Merediths went tens of thousands of dollars over budget on their renovations and makeovers that were supposed to take weeks went on for months. Bennion also said she had to pay tens of thousands of dollars to fix issues the Merediths' renovation created in her home.

The homeowners told Insider that they tried to reach out to Magnolia Network for help, but were "brushed off" as the Goateses put it.

Magnolia Network confirmed it would be pulling the show from its lineup while it "reviewed" the claims in a statement from the network's president Allison Page to Insider on January 7.

The Merediths refuted the allegations the homeowners made against them in a statement to Insider on January 12 that they later shared to Instagram in a series of eight posts.

In the statement, Andy and Candis acknowledged that some of the show's renovations took longer than they expected, but they viewed the delays as standard issues in the construction industry. The Merediths also said they thought any issues that had come up during the renovations had been resolved, so they found their clients' public statements shocking.

Page announced the show would air again on Magnolia Network in a statement that was shared with Insider on January 14.

"We strive to meet people with compassion, and to cautiously approach difficult moments with honest understanding," Page said in the statement.

"Magnolia Network is dedicated to sharing hopeful and genuine stories," the statement read. "After speaking with homeowners as well as Candis and Andy Meredith regarding renovation projects for Home Work, and hearing a mix of both positive and negative experiences, we do not believe there was ill or malicious intent."

Page also said that the network would be finding "appropriate resolutions for those whose experience with 'Home Work' fell short of our network's standards" in the same statement.

"While 'Home Work' will return to Magnolia Network, we recognize the responsibility we have to act on how we can better support not only our talent, but those who put their trust in them and this brand," she added in the statement.

"Home Work" returned to the Magnolia Network lineup on January 31, 2022.

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