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Wesley Chapel townhome community mired in litigation over shoddy construction

WESLEY CHAPEL

The Bay at Cypress Creek lies behind black iron gates, 176 beige townhouses tucked away in a neatly manicured neighborhood along clean streets.

This is all, of course, at a distance. Upon closer inspection, lines of discolored paint snake around the facades where cracks have been patched. The stucco is warped and bubbling from water damage. Construction crews have gutted one of the buildings.

Underneath the surfaces, it's worse, according to Alan Tannenbaum, a lawyer hired by the home­owners' association.

Pulte Homes built the community of townhomes priced from $150,000 to $180,000 during the housing boom, around 2004 through 2006.

In a statement to the Times, Pulte said it has sent representatives to the property numerous times for stucco issues but didn't hear about the structural problems until last month.

Now, Tannenbaum said, the townhouses are so damaged they can't even be sold.

Initially, the homeowner's association thought the problem was limited to the stucco, and the association sued in 2011 strictly over that issue. Pulte argued that the claims needed to be arbitrated, rather than litigated in court.

More research exposed bigger problems: basic shoddy construction, said Tannenbaum. The first floors aren't attached properly to the second. They rotate and move with the wind, and crack.

Tannenbaum says this new information shows Pulte Homes violated building codes, and he estimates the repairs will be around $7.5 million.

If the fixes aren't done by hurricane season, he said, the residents will have to be evacuated if a storm comes through.

Pulte Homes said it "has engaged independent, third-party experts to thoroughly investigate, assess, and recommend a solution to address this new issue. Once that report is finalized, we intend to share the results with the HOA and look forward to implementing the necessary repairs, if warranted."

The company said it designs homes "to the highest standards" and stands behind every home it has built.

John Holloway, a retiree and member of the association board, said the water intrusion on his home is so bad he had to install a storm door on the side of his house.

"After a while you think you're living in a house made of cardboard," Holloway said. "When you buy a home you expect it to be built to code."

The problems arose when residents started to notice the cracked stucco. Eventually, a structural engineer was brought in after water-damaged walls were removed, revealing the true extent of the damages. When it rains, water enters the spaces and seeps into the wood, allowing mold to grow.

"These buildings are like sails," the association's engineer, Jerry Weintraub, said.

On a recent weekday, Weintraub stood on some scaffolding and showed how the wooden tresses, or support beams for the floor, are not attached to the first floor the way plans call for them to be. They are supposed to be fully level, and they are not.

Weintraub said he's surprised the building passed code inspections, and that in his decades of experience, he's never seen anything like it.

Florida law states a county or city cannot be sued for building code violations.

Tim Moore, Pasco County Chief Building Official, looked at the plans and said "the noted deficiencies seem to reflect just as many design problems as construction problems."

Association president Jeno Czabafy bought his townhouse in 2007. He collected money from homeowners to pay for repairs currently being done, but there's no more in the pot, he said.

"People had to pay a bill just to keep the water out of their houses — single moms and families on one income," he said. "The financial impact has been huge on these people."

Czabafy said he's tired of the back-and-forth with Pulte Homes. He just wants the problems repaired.

"We're desperate," he said. "This is home for a lot of people, and some people's lifetime investments. There shouldn't be a two-year fight to fix something that is a gross violation of what we expected when buying our homes."

Tannenbaum is moving forward with the lawsuit and has sent subcontractors involved in the construction notices of claims.

"These residents are stuck," Tannenbaum said. "They can't sell the homes and they can't repair them."

Wesley Chapel townhome community mired in litigation over shoddy construction 01/28/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 28, 2014 7:32pm]
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