New homeowners say they often have issues getting construction defects corrected in a timely manner

Attorneys say big builders are often in a hurry
Posted at 7:54 PM, Nov 17, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-18 14:11:34-05

New homes are going up just about everywhere in the Tampa Bay area, creating what may become the next big building boom.

But many homeowners are saying "They just don't build them like they used to", as they encounter construction problems that builders are often not quick to resolve.

ABC Action News has teamed up with ABC’s Brian Ross Investigative Unit as part of a nationwide investigation called "New Home Heartbreak".

“A lot of cracking, stucco coming out, screws coming undone through the ceiling,” Marie Coughlin is talking about what used to be her dream home.

She bought it new in 2005 from Westfield Homes, now a subsidiary of Cal Atlantic homes, for $428,000.

A block away, homeowners can't park in their driveway, because bricks are falling off the chimney

Water leaks into walls and wood is rotting.

In another nearby neighborhood, several residents have filed lawsuits involving stucco problems. 

“It's just been problem after problem,” Darrell Collins says of his Lennar home.  

“If you look at the houses, you can see that they're rapidly deteriorating. And that's not something you expect in a nice neighborhood like this,” Collins said.

Homes in Carriage Pointe in the Gibsonton Community once sold for nearly $300,000.

Collins and other neighbors recently sued Lennar Homes, claiming stucco was not installed according to Florida Building Code. 

“They were just profit driven and didn't try to put the quality in that they needed to put in,” Collins said.

“The product that they're purchasing isn't being built to last as long as that mortgage,” said Josh Burnett, a Tampa attorney whose firm has filed hundreds of lawsuits against national home builders.

“It's generally the larger builders, particularly during the 2004-2008 time frame when homes were being put up very rapidly,” Burnett said.

Burnett says big builders often cut corners to insure double-digit profits.

“They're looking for the lowest bid. They're looking for the subcontractor who will provide the material and services as cheaply as possible,” Burnett said.

“I think the quality is better than it's ever been,” said Jerry Howard, President of the National Homebuilders’ Association.

Howard discussed quality complaints with ABC Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross, after ABC and its dozens of affiliates uncovered complaints about big builders all over the country. 

When asked whether homes were being built too fast, too cheaply and too shoddily, Howard replied, “No, no. In fact, the real trend in our society that frightens me is that homes aren't being built to address the needs.”

“I looked at those homes over there. They threw them up overnight and I don't think you can do a quality job when you do something that fast,” said Collins, describing the new homes going up on the other side of his neighborhood.

Collins recently reached a settlement with Lennar to pay for repairs.

Since January 1st, 14 Lennar homeowners have filed complaints with the Florida Attorney General's Office.

One from October says owners have issues "due to shortcuts being taken during the building process".

Another complaint says "30 days after purchase, the home started falling apart".

A third homeowner documented 15 contacts she had with Lennar over two months trying to get a problem resolved.

Lennar provided the following statement to ABC Action News:

"At Lennar, we proudly stand behind the homes we build. We take seriously any concerns expressed by our homeowners. We have tens of thousands of satisfied Lennar homeowners across the nation. We have specific guidelines for dealing with customer issues. We work with homeowners and our trade partners to inspect a problem, recommend a solution and make repairs. It is important to understand that homebuilding is not assembly-line work. Mistakes happen. Lennar is committed to ensuring that any faulty workmanship by our company or our trade partners is corrected under warranty.”

"One example of this commitment is our response several years ago to the industry-wide problem of defective drywall made in China. We know of no other builder that addressed the issue as promptly and comprehensively as Lennar. We remediated about 1,000 homes with Chinese drywall at a cost of about $80 million. In each case, we relocated the homeowners, photographed their homes, moved and stored their possessions, stripped the interiors of the homes to the studs and rebuilt the entire interior with new wiring and plumbing connections. We then returned all of our homeowners’ possessions to their original locations based on the photographs.  We took those actions without knowing whether we would recover the expenses from the drywall suppliers.

“In recent years, some homeowners in the Tampa area have reported issues involving cracked stucco and resulting water seepage. If a home is under warranty, we will inspect and offer to repair any faulty construction. In most cases, we work with our trade partners in making these repairs. We also will, on a case-by-case basis, inspect and offer to repair homes that no longer are covered by warranty." 

“We called multiple times, left messages, didn't get any phone calls back, tried to send emails,” said Caughlin.

We also reached out to Cal Atlantic, but didn’t hear back from them.

Time has run out for Coughlin to take legal action, since Florida has a 10 year statute of limitations for construction defects.

Home builders are lobbying to have it reduced to seven years.

Burnett says full replacement on stucco homes can cost from $40,000 to $100,000 in some cases.

If you suspect defects in a new home, experts say you should act quickly.

“Talk to home inspectors, talk to other contractors who aren't associated with the big builders,” said Burnett.

“It's ok to make a profit, but put a quality product out there and then everybody's happy,” said Collins.

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