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Robert Trigaux

Lennar responds to tainted drywall controversy



Wake up and good morning: I got a call from an Orlando area Realtor yesterday concerned that a home she is trying to sell may have tainted drywall. The house is  empty -- the out-of-state owners never moved in -- but she said the interior has strong odors. "Could this be a home with that drywall problem? How can I tell?"

Good questions. We don't have a good answer yet. The tainted drywall matter concerns drywall apparently imported from China during the 2005-2006 peak building period. Some of that drywall, now in potentially thousands of Florida homes, emits a sulfur-like gas that sickens some residents and, more widely, corrodes electrical wiring, air conditioning and some plumbing. I wrote about this issue in a recent St. Petersburg Times column and newspapers south of Tampa Bay area covering this topic aggressively.

Miami-based homebuilder Lennar Corp. has been linked to the drywall controversy. Now it has responded in a lawsuit. As reported by the Miami Herald, Lennar has sued a manufacturer alleging it failed to warn the home builder its plasterboard was defective. Lennar wants Knauf Plasterboard (Tianjin) Co. to pay the costs of replacing defective gypsum plasterboard.

Lennar said it has identified about 80 homes in Southwest Florida that appear to have been built with the defective drywall. It said the houses represent a small percentage of the homes it built. It also hired Tampa-based environmental consulting firm Environ to test at least 79 homes. Environ confirmed that "certain gypsum wallboard manufactured in China" was emitting reduced sulfur gases capable of affecting copper HVAC coils. It did not find any gases considered a health concern.

Lennar seeks damages for its tarnished reputation. (One of Lennar's directors is Sherrill Hudson, the CEO of Tampa's TECO Energy.)

Mark Sustana, general counsel for Lennar, said the manufacturers "either knew or should have known that this drywall was defective and not appropriate" for use in homes. Sustana, quoted in the Bradenton Herald, added:

“Lennar is acting promptly to correct the problem in the homes we delivered. Lennar, as a customer, expects the same from its manufacturers, suppliers and subcontractors. Unfortunately, they have refused to take responsibility for their defective product, leaving us no other option but to seek redress in a court of law.”

On Monday, Knauf Plasterboard fired back, calling the Lennar suit "an unneeded distraction from seeking solutions to the issues facing Florida homeowners" that would delay resolution of the issue. It added:

"The company will not be a scapegoat for homebuilders who would seek a quick and convenient bailout based on false claims. The company intends to vigorously defend its good name and reputation."

Knauf added that, contrary to Lennar’s claims that Knauf has not stood behind its product, the company was the "only manufacturer actively working with Lennar and other builders on potential solutions to the identified problems." Knauf said it accounts for only a fifth of the Chinese plasterboard imported into the United States during the end of 2005 through the beginning of 2007.

A Sarasota class-action suit was filed last week on behalf of lead plaintiff Kristin Culliton, a Lakewood Ranch resident whose Taylor Morrison home contains drywall manufactured by Knauf Plasterboard, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Other class-action-hungry law firms are jumping into this game -- fast. Morgan & Morgan's already got a Web site seeking unhappy homeowners. So does Parker Waichman Alonso.

A Herald-Tribune analysis of shipping records found that the amount of Chinese-manufactured drywall imported into the United States since 2006 was potentially enough to build more than 60,000 homes nationwide. Shipments landing at Florida ports alone contained enough material to build 36,000 homes.

Folks, we're still very much at the front end of this one. Got a new home new home with sulfur odors and corroding metal in your walls? Post a comment. Let's start a discussion.

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 11:23am]


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