Jennifer C. Loader thought she was remodeling her Spartan home into her dream house. The project started in 2006 with plans to expand the 800-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bath home, adding about 1,200 square feet. But soon after renovations were done, she noticed something was wrong. Loader, 37, was having nose bleeds and mild headaches, and her air conditioner needed new coils. She started researching and learned about defective Chinese drywall, which some say can cause corroding metal and health problems. She had the house tested and realized that a contractor had used the harmful product.
Loader and her husband, Greg Wohl, are among thousands nationwide who say their newly built or renovated dream houses are now toxic and basically worthless.
Area property tax appraisers are sympathetic, sometimes slicing affected homeowners' tax assessments in half.
But so far, many victims have found little recourse otherwise.
"We did all this remodeling so that we could be here," Loader said last week. "This was our home."
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Inspectors aren't sure why drywall imported from a handful of companies in China is defective, emitting a sulfuric odor and causing copper and other metals in homes to corrode.
Since 2003, about 100,000 homes across the country were built using the defective drywall, according to a Florida Senate report released in September.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has received 1,897 complaints from homeowners in 30 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. The majority, more than 1,300, come from Florida.
New building, as a result of the housing boom and heavy hurricane seasons of 2005 and 2007, are partly to blame for the high number of cases here, the Senate report said.
But with several agencies tracking the drywall cases, the impact statewide remains unclear.
For instance, the Florida Department of Health reports 673 complaints in 30 counties, just over half the amount the federal agency has logged. Some were likely duplicated between agencies, officials say.
From the state Department of Health's perspective, Hillsborough County was hit hardest with 52 cases, as of Tuesday. Pasco County reported 10 cases; Pinellas County reported five.
Yet, Tim Wilmath, director of valuation for Hillsborough, said there are about 150 homeowners in the county seeking a lower property tax assessment because of defective drywall.
Property appraisers in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas are lowering assessed values on such homes by as much as 50 percent.
Selling the homes would be almost impossible, owners say. They have already endured decreased values because of the economy and, now, the drywall makes things worse.
"With the glut of houses already on the market … who would buy a formerly defective drywall house when they could buy the house next door that never had this problem?" asked attorney Bill Cash, who is representing some homeowners in Florida.
Some officials say that even homeowners without the drywall are at risk, as the stigma of defective neighboring houses may hamper sales throughout the community.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson has taken on the drywall issue, requesting assistance from state and federal agencies, as well as the Chinese government. Chinese officials, the Florida Democrat said recently, "basically blew me off."
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Homeowners have reported health symptoms that include irritated and itchy eyes, bloody or runny noses, recurrent headaches and difficulty breathing. State and federal agencies are investigating long-term health risks, according to a September report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Although some believed that the defective drywall was toxic or radioactive, an August report by the State and Federal Drywall Technical Team determined there was no radiological concern. The team includes members from the CDC and the state health department, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
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A North Tampa homeowner, Robert Morris, is being considered for a class-action lawsuit against home builders that will be heard in January in the Eastern District of Louisiana.
He bought a townhome that was constructed by Beazer Homes USA in Hampton Lakes at Main Street in Westchase.
Unlike him and many other affected homeowners, Loader and Wohl can't blame home builders for their problem.
Beazer spokeswoman Leslie Kratcoski said the company is replacing the drywall and other components in affected homes, as well as giving homeowners money for living expenses while the work is completed.
Beazer has established safeguards for future developments, requiring installers to prove materials have not been manufactured in China, she said.
Lennar Corp. was the developer of Beckett Way Townhomes in Pinellas, which were built with defective Chinese drywall.
According to documents filed in October with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Lennar says that about 500 of its homes across the state have defective drywall. It had not received reports that the defective product was used in homes built outside of Florida, Lennar said. The company plans to go after subcontractors, insurers and others to cover the repairs.
Loader said she has an attorney and is waiting to find out what remedies are available to homeowners like her.
"We didn't have a builder and we are totally on the hook," she said.
She said she pulled permits and did everything by the book.
"I never even thought that drywall would not be coming from this country. I don't think it was on anyone's radar," she said.
Loader and Wohl have moved out of their home and into a townhouse nearby. Loader was able to work with her mortgage company and get a six-month moratorium on paying the loan. After about three weeks, her health problems subsided.
"I do feel like I was forced out of my home," she said. "It's devastating it really is."
Jared Leone can be reached at (813) 226-3435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.