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"I bought my house from Colorado's largest homebuilder, Richmond American Homes," Simmons said.

``Would I do it again? Hell no."


Many complaints have been filed against Richmond American Homes below are just a small sample..

Dear PaylessBills!com

In February 2005 I set out on behalf of my elderly parent to purchase a home in the Las Vegas area. "My parents currently live in England" commented Gavin Rowe, resident of Las Vegas. "My parents were both born and raised in the USA but have been living in the UK for the past 30 years and now they would like to retire in the same city as me there son.

Gavin explained this situation to Brenda Kasten (Richmond American Sales Manager) and Karen Sjondin (Richmond American Mortgage Officer). "My main concern was that my parents had know credit history" but both Brenda Kasteen and Karen Sjondin said, "this wont be a problem, as your parents have enough assets and we sell homes to people over seas all the time, all you have to do is put 10% down.

At first Gavin remarks that he was hesitant as he knew if they were wrong it may be unlikely that they would be able to purchase a home in the future, what with the Las Vegas housing market growing so rapidly, but Richmond American Home, assured him that there wouldn't be a problem. Gavin and his Farther put down 10 % OF THE HOMES VALUE $26, 000.00 .

Over a month later the house fell out of escrow. Why? As Brenda Kastern and Karen Sjondin say "Because Gavin's parents have no US credit history"

Obviously bitter and frustrated Gavin and his parents are trying to get there deposit back so they can try and find a home but still to this day they haven't received there $26,000.00






NIGHTMARE DREAM HOMES
OWNERS CLAIM HOUSES CRUMBLING AND RICHMOND AMERICAN DON'T RESPOND!


The builder's 1-year warranty on their new houses had expired before Nancy Clawson or Debbie Colbert noticed that anything was wrong.

But now, the wood around some of their windows is rotting. Masonite siding on the exterior of their homes is discolored from mildew and improper installation, they say. Ceiling material is falling off and walls are sagging because rain is leaking through.

Both women live in the Country Lane neighborhood in south Seminole County, which was developed by Richmond-American Homes. They say they have pestered the builder repeatedly, but that all they get are excuses, delays and patch-up jobs that don't repair underlying problems.

Living room windows, for example, were installed without the use of what the county building department says are standard waterproofing techniques such as the use of flashing, which is a piece of sheet metal that lines the inside of wooden joints, or drip caps, Colbert said.

The two women said they know of four families who asked Richmond-American to repair their windows. The developer sent work crews out to replace rotting wood with new trim, but still did not install waterproofing materials - even the second time around, Colbert said.

Since the last home in Country Lane was built two years ago, Richmond-American has sold its assets and rights to do business in Florida to Lennar Homes, which has a regional office in Altamonte Springs.

A Lennar Homes official acknowledged Monday that problems remain in Country Lane. Bill Moore, the company's vice president for finance, said the developer is talking with Richmond-American officials in Texas to try to determine who is responsible for paying for repairs.

Moore said a company called Homeowners Warranties insures that structural defects on a home found within 10 years after it is built will be repaired.

But Clawson said the warranty company has been just as unresponsive as the builder.

Colbert said she has been fighting with Richmond-American and Lennar Homes longer than any of the 153 other property owners in Country Lane. She and Clawson have collected at least 25 signatures from their neighbors on petitions calling on the developer to repair all defects and reimburse homeowners for costs they have incurred.

The neighborhood's homeowners association may consider filing a class-action suit against Richmond-American Homes, Colbert said. Residents have scheduled a meeting for Saturday morning to discuss their options.

Colbert's husband, Alan, has been transferred to Clearwater and they need to sell their house, she said. But the real estate broker through whom they bought the house won't even accept it for a listing because of the problems.

''Are they telling other people who are signing contracts for $100,000 to $150,000 homes that in a year the front of your house can be rotting and they're not going to do anything about it?'' Colbert asked angrily. ''For the outrageous prices we're paying for these homes, it's just not right.''

Clawson said the workmanship on the installation of her living room window is so poor that during heavy rains last November, water ''poured in'' through leaks above the window frame. The water soaked her carpet, which is now rotting, she said.

She told of a neighbor whose shower wall collapsed. He was later told that the shower frame was built with untreated wood and that it did not have ''green board,'' a waterproof material that is supposed to be installed behind ceramic tile.

Other residents have leaking bathroom fixtures, cracked concrete blocks in their garages and sagging drywall that has become wet due to leaks, Colbert said. Richmond-American sent out a man with a caulking gun to Colbert's house when she complained about bathroom leaks, but she said that was only a cosmetic solution that didn't fix the problem.

Masonite siding on the houses, a compressed particle board material, is discolored from mildew, Colbert and Clawson said. Homeowners who have had the problems inspected found that no felt paper, a vapor-proof lining, had been installed behind the siding.

A Masonite representative from Mississippi who inspected several homes found that the siding also did not have enough paint on it, Colbert said.

Both women said that all the homes of a particular model in Country Lane appear to have the same problems. Several of the Primrose models, such as the one Clawson and her husband own, have experienced leaking windows and rotting wood, she said.

County building director Bill Culbertson said Monday that his department's four building inspectors don't have the time to closely scrutinize every detail of construction on the hundreds of homes that are built in Seminole County every month.

After the frame is checked, a home may not be visited by a county inspector until it is finished, Culbertson said.

Homeowners with complaints about builders who do not repair defective work should call his office, Culbertson said.





Walter and Sheryl Curtis had had enough of Richmond American.




Eight months after they purchased their $185,000 house in Clinton, their lawn was once again torn up as their builder, Richmond American Homes, tried to solve the water problems in their basement. The Curtises' basement had flooded only once -- 8 1/2 inches of water appeared the day after they had moved in. But their sump pump ran continuously and all sorts of other aggravations had yet to be fixed -- sagging floors, bowed walls and a warped front door.

Angry and frustrated, the Curtises put up a sign near the front of their Hillantrae subdivision, telling potential buyers that "Richmond American sold home with puddles." About a dozen other neighbors posted similar signs of dissatisfaction in their yards and windows. One person drove around Virginia and Maryland with a sign saying her builder "spoiled" her "dream house."

Stanley Orman of Gaithersburg took a slightly different, but equally public, approach to air his discontent. Believing his builder, Richmarr Construction Corp., had ignored years of complaints from his Hampton Estates subdivision, Orman organized his neighbors to demonstrate in front of a new model home built by a company that has a similar name as his builder, which long ago went out of business.

Orman also persuaded many of his neighbors to put up several hundred dollars each so the group could hire a lawyer to press their claims before Montgomery County housing officials. "You get nowhere on your own, but collectively you might do something," Orman said.

Richmond American said it stands by its new-home warranty and will fix any covered defects in the Hillantrae houses, while an attorney for the now-defunct Richmarr said representatives will cooperate with Montgomery County building officials even though Richmarr is confident that the Hampton Estates homes were properly built.

Such assurances, however, have proved to be little comfort for a growing number of buyers who have become more militant in pursuing their complaints. Dissatisfied with what they perceive to be both poor-quality workmanship in their homes and inadequate attention to their complaints, buyers are posting signs, distributing flyers, staging protests and organizing neighbors to file community complaints against their builders.

In California, a group of homeowners took to the Internet and set up a own home page to share their unhappy experiences with their builder. In many other parts of the country, disgruntled buyers have been known to post yellow wooden signs in the shape of lemons on their front lawns. In Virginia and Texas, meanwhile, disgruntled citizens have banded together, forming grass-roots organizations to fight for tighter regulations of home builders.

"Consumers are becoming more vocal about their dissatisfaction," said Carol Smith, a building consultant in Denver who specializes in customer-service programs. "Years ago, you used to have the husband working and the wife staying home. Nowadays, over 70 percent of new-home buyers both work to pay for their house. When struggling that hard to pay for something, homeowners become a lot more passionate about the quality."

At the same time, Smith said, "today's consumers are used to better customer service from other U.S. companies, such as Nordstrom's and Federal Express. They expect the same personal attention -- if not more -- on the most expensive investment in their life. They can get a package delivered overnight; they don't understand why it takes a builder three weeks to get a plumber into their house."

Washington area homeowners are especially demanding, local builders said.

"Our consumers are educated and very knowledgeable; they just get more involved in things," said Catherine Bergstrom, vice president of sales in Virginia for Richmond American, the area's third largest builder, which sold about 1,100 homes in 1996 in the

Washington-Baltimore region.

For example, Bergstrom said Richmond American recently received a letter from a homeowner whose refrigerator had broken down eight months after she moved in. The homeowner said she wanted the refrigerator replaced, not repaired. And she added, if that didn't happen, she would post a complaint sign in her yard, just across from Richmond American's model home. The company complied after determining that the original refrigerator may have been dropped during installation, Bergstrom said.

"People feel more compelled to try to go outside of the system," Bergstrom said. "If they feel like the concerns that they have are not being addressed immediately, then they want to take additional action."

Like several other builders, Richmond American officials know that phenomenon well, having been the target of three contentious protests from unhappy home buyers over the past two years.

"We can't explain why someone is raised to that level of frustration," said Peter R. Thompson, Richmond American's vice president and corporate counsel. "When you deal with the volume of people that we deal with, there are certain personalities that you just cannot please. . . .

"Let me assure you, our quality is comparable, if not better, to anyone else in the industry," Thompson said. "The vast, vast majority" of Richmond American home buyers have their complaints responded to under the company's warranty program, he added.

"The bottom line is that we will honor the warranty," he said. "Maybe we are just more aggressive in honoring the warranty as it exists."

As a result, sometimes the company may refuse to repair certain items that it believes are not covered by the warranty, which in turn can lead to disagreements. "Some people you cannot satisfy," Thompson said.

Complaints Vary by Area

Statistically, the numbers of complaints about home builders vary from locality to locality. Montgomery County officials said they get about 10 to 20 complaints a year -- the more active the housing market, the higher the number. Fairfax County officials, on the other hand, said complaints have dropped sharply over the past three years, to 66 last year from 88 complaints in 1994. Prince George's County no longer keeps an official count of complaints about builders.

The Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan Washington does keep count, and its records, in contrast to Fairfax County, show nearly a doubling of complaints from 1993 to 1995, the last year for which figures are available. There were 17 complaints in 1993; 32 in 1995.

Dave Johnson, vice president of operations for the local Better Business Bureau affiliate, said that for the past three years, there were seven complaints filed against Richmond American, involving either delays in addressing repairs or contractual disputes. The company responded by either completing the repairs or explaining its position in the contractual disputes, Johnson said.

For the same time period, Johnson said, there were eight complaints against NVR, the parent company of Ryan Homes and NVHomes and the area's largest builder, which sold 3,756 homes in the Washington-Baltimore region last year. Johnson said that Ryan, also a target of a recent public protest in Germantown, had "a satisfactory record and was responsive to customer complaints received by the bureau."

George Rose, administrator of Montgomery County's housing division, said he has had "some complaints" against Richmond American and "the usual smorgasbord of complaints" against Ryan. Both have been "very cooperative" in resolving them.

Paul Lynch, chief of Fairfax County's residential inspection branch, said, "Any new home is going to have a problem or two or three because a single-family dwelling is made by individual human beings. Even though a company may be building the same type of house repeatedly, it's a group of individuals who's building that house, putting together thousands of different connections and different pieces of wood." High Expectations

Lynch and other building inspectors say that many times home buyers make unreasonable demands. "You'll get people buying $200,000 to $300,000 houses and their expectations about what that buys is pretty high -- and they should be," said Samuel Wynkoop, director of Prince George's County Department of Environmental Resources. "But generally, the quality of work that you get for $200,000 is not craftsmanship at work."

In many cases, inspectors say they have seen homeowners demand repairs for alleged faults even experts can't notice. "I've been on cases where the homeowner is complaining about the finish on the hardwood floors -- and it's the most beautiful floor I've ever seen," Rose said.

Even so, Rose quickly added, "I've seen consumers pay huge sums of money for houses that are just totally unacceptable. There was a $750,000 house in Potomac where the whole roof had to be replaced within the first year, where the drywall wouldn't have been acceptable in the lowest-income apartment building and where the deck had started pulling off the house."

Nothing irritates Rose more, he said, than to hear a builder dismiss frozen pipes inside the house with the comment: " Well the winter was unusually cold.' Interior pipes in a home should never freeze; I don't care how cold it gets."

When real or perceived problems do occur, the failure of the builder to address them promptly exacerbates the situation. Trust quickly erodes between both sides and resolving disputes becomes almost impossible. "It sort of becomes like the Middle East peace talks," Wynkoop said.

Buyers' perceptions that they're being ignored often prompt the public outbursts, such as the signs posted by the Curtises and their neighbors last summer.

"The basic feeling we got was that they had our money and we were no longer important," Walter Curtis recalled last week. Curtis said he and his wife would give Richmond American a list of problems in their house and the company would schedule repairs -- and then "no one would show up," Curtis said.

The Curtises' water problem "was an ongoing problem that we were trying to address. It could not be addressed quickly," Thompson said. "It just took time. . . . At one point we thought it was a break in the water line." Eventually, a completely new drainage system had to be installed to divert the water from the house to the flood plain. Posting Signs

Although the water problem and most of their other complaints have been resolved, the Curtises said a bad taste still remains because they felt the company ignored their problems until the Curtises and their neighbors posted their signs. Two weeks after the signs appeared, the company sent crews of workers to address many, but not all, of the problems, Curtis said.

Thompson said the company tried to make many of the repairs before then, but many homeowners refused to let the construction crews in their houses. What's more, he said, the company never learned of many of the problems because homeowners failed to follow proper warranty procedure and put their complaints in writing.

Thompson said Richmond American is ready to address any remaining warranty problems in the Curtises' community. "We keep coming back. . . . If we didn't do it right the first time, then we're going to come back and we're going to do it the second time," he said.

Richmond American also "has been and is ready to" address numerous complaints brought by Fairfax Station homeowner Brandon Shea, Thompson added.

Shea has become the one of most militant and public disgruntled homeowners in the area, posting a sign in his front yard in the Giles Run subdivision and spending recent weekends distributing flyers to other Richmond American homeowners in Maryland and Virginia.

Shea's flyer details his complaints and asks other Richmond American homeowners to call him if they have had similar ones. The flyers also tell homeowners where they can buy a sign similar to Shea's, which states: "Before you buy your dream home, call us about our Richmond American Nightmare."

Shea and his wife, June, bought their $365,000 five-bedroom house in August 1994, just six days after their fourth child was born. Shea, a mechanical engineer for the Navy, compared every corner, beam and joist of the house with the blueprints.

In the process, he said, he discovered hundreds of discrepancies, including a missing steel support beam, a brick wall partially off the foundation and numerous windows that didn't open. Shea also cited such minor flaws as a 1/32-inch discrepancy in the size of pine plywood flooring.

Code Violations

Lynch, the Fairfax inspections official, said the county issued three building code violations after the Sheas moved in. Two have been resolved, although not completely to the Sheas' satisfaction, Lynch said. Meanwhile, the county has approved Richmond American's plan to correct the third violation involving the brick wall.

Richmond American said its plan is a standard procedure, but so far, the Sheas have refused to let Richmond American proceed, arguing that it could do even more damage, including cracking many of the bricks already in place.

"They make a lot of suggestions that don't correct the problem," said June Shea. "They're just band-aid fixes and we didn't pay $365,000 for a house that's put together with band-aids."

As a result, Brandon Shea added, "the only thing left for us to do is get vocal" -- and file a lawsuit. In August, the Sheas sued Richmond American, seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.

"If we're going to have to fight in court, we want to show there's a pattern and this house is not an anomaly," Shea said. That's why he has spent recent weekends distributing flyers to other Richmond American homeowners.

"Mr. Shea has proven to be extraordinarily difficult to satisfy and to deal with," Thompson said. Citing the lawsuit, he declined to discuss any of the Sheas' specific complaints. But he said, "it's obviously not our desire to be involved in protracted litigation. . . . We've attempted over a long period of time to correct what he considers to be problems in his home and we will continue to do that."

Richmond American is not the only major home builder in the area to be hit by public displays of disaffection. Ryan Homes, the area's largest home builder, also has been targeted by Germantown resident Andres Ruiz, who like Shea also has been distributing flyers to his neighbors complaining about his $265,000, 14-month-old home. Like Shea, Ruiz also had posted signs in his front yard. "Ryan will not fix our house. Will they fix yours?" one sign said. After his homeowners association asked himto take down the signs, Ruiz put them on his van.

Among his complaints: Inadequate heating and air conditioning in the master bedroom, a muddy river running through their back yard and a gas stove that takes so long to boil water that it takes 70 minutes to cook a pot of spaghetti. An earlier problem -- wide fluctuation in the water temperatures in the house -- has been corrected.

"I can't see paying this kind of money for a house and not getting a good buy," Ruiz said. Ruiz complained about temperature differences in his house. "In the powder room, it's 88 degrees; in the hall by the thermostat, it's 72. And upstairs, in the master bedroom, it's 56."

David Schenkel, Ryan's regional marketing manager, said the company preferred not to respond to the Ruizes' specific grievances, saying it would keep "the details confidential -- which we do with all our customers." However, Schenkel added, the company was "working with the Ruizes . . . and we're confident we'll move to a resolution." Neighbors Asked to Testify

Ruiz has filed a complaint with the Maryland Attorney General's office and arbitration is scheduled for early March, officials in the attorney general's office said last week. As part of their case, Ruiz has asked his neighbors to testify on their behalf. But so far, Ruiz said no neighbor has responded.

Winning community support to fight a builder is not easy, said Gaithersburg resident Orman, who did manage to organize a community protest.

"It takes a lot of work," Orman said. Many homeowners don't want to take the time or trouble to fight, partly because they don't want to acknowledge publicly that there is a problem with their homes, fearful that it may reduce the value when it comes time to sell, he said.

Orman began his campaign shortly after he became president of the Hampton Estates Home Owners Association. In that role, he heard all sorts of complaints from his neighbors and realized that many were experiencing similar problems in their $300,000 homes that were built from 1989 to 1992: Shower units were collapsing, water leaked into basements, mold was growing on carpet edges, driveways were sinking and some kitchens had sagging floors.

On behalf of his association, Orman approached Richmarr (no relation to Richmond American), only to be told that the company that had built his subdivision had been liquidated and had no assets. Richmarr officials said that although there was another company operating and advertising under a similar name, the current firm was a different corporate entity and therefore not liable for the homes at Hampton Estates.

Richmarr executives also told Orman that even if the company still was operating, it would not be liable because the standard one-year warranty had long since expired.

"They bought their houses in 1988 and 1989 and then in 1996 they say they're having problems," said David Dickieson, Richmarr's attorney. "The whole warranty provision expired years ago."

Orman, however, was not deterred. "I refused to accept it," he said, believing many of the problems had been noted and complained about during the first year of occupancy while the warranty was still in effect but were either ignored or not repaired adequately. Additionally, Orman charged, the problems may have come from building code violations; if so, he said, the builder still should be held accountable.

Orman launched a two-pronged attack against Richmarr. First, he staged a demonstration in front of the current Richmarr company's model home.

"They decided since we can't be attacked in court, they wanted to embarrass us," Dickieson said.

The demonstrations stopped after Orman received a letter threatening a lawsuit if the picketing did not stop. Meanwhile, Orman and about half of his 40 neighbors hired Silver Spring lawyer Jeffrey Nadel, who has filed an official complaint with Montgomery County.

"We intend to cooperate with the investigation fully. My understanding is the that the houses have been built to code and there are very few problems in the neighborhood," Dickieson said.

"If we determine there were code violations at the time the houses were built, I would expect Richmarr to cooperate with homeowners to reach some sort of satisfactory settlement," Montgomery official Rose said. "If not, we will have to meet with homeowners to determine if further action needs to be taken."

"We don't want to embarrass anyone," Nadel said last week. "All we want is to right what we believe is a wrong for homeowners who've spent a lot of money and don't believe they've gotten their money's worth. We just want to have these problems rectified."





Brandon and June Shea with their children in front of their

house in the Giles Run subdivision in Virginia, which they bought in

August 1994. Brandon Shea has spent recent weekends distributing flyers

to other homeowners in Maryland and Virginia.

Unhappy homeowners in Montgomery County demonstrate last June

in front of a model home built by a company that has a similar name as

their builder, which long ago went out of business. From left are Joan



The Prince William Board of County Supervisors met behind closed doors with its lawyers last week to consider possible legal action concerning the construction of a Dale City housing development.


Neighbors of the Saratoga Hunt development have complained that builders have not lived up to their agreements with the county.

County officials say the developers sold protected land for individual building sites, graded and deforested land that was supposed to be set aside for conservation, and did not properly protect historic grave sites in the manner agreed to.

County Attorney Sharon E. Pandak said Prince William "can and likely will" sue the developers, Richmond American Homes of Virginia Inc. and Washington Homes of Virginia Inc., unless they come up with an agreeable plan to make things right. In the meantime, Pandak said, the county has worked out an informal agreement with the developers not to continue work in areas of dispute. She said a final agreement could result in fewer houses being built on the site.

"We are waiting to hear from Richmond American about how they are going to mitigate the problems out there and correct them. If it is not timely and satisfactory, we are prepared to take legal action to address the problems," Pandak said.

"We are certainly aware of it and working with county officials to get it squared away," said Rachel Neumann, a Richmond American spokeswoman. "At this stage in the game we're not going to comment."

"Hats off to the county," said Kim Hosen, an environmental activist and frequent government critic. "We hope this sends a message that Prince William is committed to implementation and it considers that promises made should be promises kept."

The subdivision of 155 single-family houses is being built off Minnieville Road, between Silverdale and Cardinal drives. The houses will surround the historic 14-room Bel Air plantation, which, along with 25 acres, is protected from development by an easement donated by the Flory family, who bought the home and surrounding property a half-century ago.

Preservationists have expressed concerns that slaves' remains could be buried on the property. They said the developers have not taken adequate precautions to protect possible artifacts.

Last month, county code enforcement officials ordered work on the development to halt, alleging that Richmond American failed to follow through on 14 proffer items and raising concerns about other aspects of the development.

Also, the county says the developers failed to meet with neighbors and conduct a walk-through of the property with the county arborist. Neighbors complained that the developers started work too early in the morning and ignored promises not to allow construction vehicles on Saratoga Lane. Richmond American and Washington Homes were named in the work-stop order.

"Laws are not worth a darn unless you uphold them," said Earl M. Cunard Jr., president of LOCCA, a citizens group that has been involved in the discussions with county officials over the allegations.

Cunard placed some blame on county officials, who he said allowed the developers to move forward with construction without checking whether they had followed through on all of their promises.

"We've been trying to find out precisely what happened and when," Cunard said.



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One year after Bob Schneider moved into his $202,000 condominium in central Denver, the outside walls of the building began to crack, water streaks stained the hallways and mold grew on the stairway walls.




In her new Aurora house, Angela Simmons' hot-water heater takes up to five minutes to pump warm water to the taps - far longer than anyplace else she's ever lived.


The foundation of James Danyo's new Highlands Ranch house cracked so badly that an engineer told him that it would cost $55,000 to fix it.


Colorado lawmakers are reviewing a bill that could change how these homeowners and others like them pursue claims that they are victims of faulty construction.


Homeowners say the existing system protects them by allowing them to collect damages from homebuilders that fail to follow basic construction procedures. Builders claim the threat of lawsuits drives up housing costs for everybody.


"I don't cry and shout obscenities very often," Simmons said. "But my builder has seen me do both. I could not believe the words coming out of my mouth, but now when I call Richmond American Homes to do something, they do it."


The Simmons method of demanding home repair could become more common if Colorado lawmakers pass the Construction Defect Action Reform Act.


The bill - already approved by the House and scheduled for debate in the Senate this week - would change the rules for when owners can sue and limit how much they collect from homebuilders.


Homeowners and plaintiffs' lawyers want to preserve the existing law that allows them to sue builders for faulty construction of new homes. They say they need the threat of a lawsuit to get builders to deal promptly with problems.


"It's unconscionable," said Danyo, who sued Sanford Homes over the cracked foundation in his house. "The builder is saying it's just a cosmetic issue. It's just unbelievable how they will stall."


Danyo, a 53-year-old military retiree, bought his house in 1995 and sued his builder about two years ago. He said the case has not been resolved.


"After chasing my builder on other warranty issues and seeing how they behaved, a lawsuit was the only option," Danyo said.


Perry Cadman, executive vice president with Atlanta-based Beazer Homes USA Inc., which acquired Sanford in 2001, said his company would make the cosmetic changes it says is necessary if Danyo would let them.


"Our intent is not to fight with home buyers," Cadman said. "Our intent is to get it fixed. Litigation is sometimes prohibitive in getting it done."


Builders contend that they need better protection from frivolous lawsuits and ever-increasing insurance premiums. They claim insurance rates are rising because homeowners can sue for up to three times the cost of making repairs. A builder who makes a mistake faces the same risk as a builder that commits fraud.


"Insurance companies are so terrified that they are quick to settle," said Sen. Andy McElhany, R-Colorado Springs, one of the sponsors of the bill. "That is reflected in the premiums charged to builders, and it's impacting the price of housing."


Builders call it the "tort tax." They claim they are besieged by ruthless lawyers who sue for the slightest problems, driving up construction costs for everybody else.


To avoid the risk of legal settlements, many big insurers won't sell policies to homebuilders who construct a small number of houses each year. Zurich North America, for example, discontinued selling builder's liability insurance in the United States.


With fewer companies selling insurance, builders complain that their bills have skyrocketed.


McStain Enterprises Inc. of Boulder paid a $500 premium for each house it built in 1998. In 2003, the best rate it can get is $3,000 per house, and the company rarely has filed claims on its policy, said McStain chief financial officer Bruce Valentine.


Homebuilder Craig Austin said his Greenwood Village-based company will pay $130,000 for insurance this year whether it builds one house or 10 - a premium rate that has tripled in recent years. And the policy excludes riskier claims that could result from unstable soil or mold.


Homeowners say the existing system is a better way to protect their interests.


For example, Denver resident Schneider said he and his fellow residents in the Villa Riva condominiums in the 1500 block of Vine Street have struggled to get repairs to a cascading series of water-related problems in the 3-year-old, 24-unit complex.


Exterior passageways connecting the condos are pocked with cracked faux stucco. The patchwork ceiling on the second floor reveals partially repaired damage. Some rusting balcony railings hang loosely.


Schneider said he stopped repair workers to prevent them from hiding structural problems.


"Painting over the mold is covering up the symptom, but it's not curing the problem," Schneider said.


Villa Riva developer Bryan Barnes blames the problems on a construction contractor and claims he is also a victim. He still owns all or part of five units in the building.


Barnes said that Schneider and the condo board are making it impossible to repair the damage.


"If there wasn't a big lottery at the end, the repairs would have been made," Barnes said.


Last week, Simmons learned that her method of home repairs - cursing and crying - wasn't working as well as she originally thought.


An inspector's report, conducted in advance of the one-year anniversary of living in her house, found that several of the repairs promised by the company had not been made.


In a written statement, executives from Richmond American said: "Richmond's contract with each homeowner for the purchase of their home includes an arbitration provision and, if the homeowner requests it, Richmond American will accept arbitration."


Simmons said she expects to take her homebuilder to arbitration. And she has made a vow.


"I bought my house from Colorado's largest homebuilder, Richmond American Homes," Simmons said.


``Would I do it again? Hell no."








A small group of homeowners is struggling to get one of Denver's largest builders to correct mold problems that they said are making them sick.



The problems, they claim, are so extreme that the builder has purchased several homes back from other homeowners.


Customers of MDC Holdings, which builds under the Richmond American Homes label, said the builder failed to install a moisture barrier in the space between the ground and the subfloor. That allowed mold to spread throughout their homes, they said.


Many Colorado homes are built with structural wood floors to prevent cracking and settling that result from the state's expansive soils. That solution, however, has created a widespread mold problem for many homeowners.


The owners, who have asked not to be identified for fear of legal action, complained of health problems that include sinus infections, sore throats and asthma.


Even their pets have gotten sick, they said.


Officials at MDC Holdings would not confirm the mold problems or whether they have repurchased some homes.


"Richmond American Homes, Colorado's largest homebuilder, stands behind each of the homes it builds in Colorado and takes pride in building homes with lasting value," the company said in a statement. "Richmond provides each homeowner with a home warranty, which it is committed to honor. The company has proven and will continue to demonstrate a pro-active response to its homeowners' concerns."


But homeowners said they've spent years trying to get Richmond to correct the problems.


Mold and mold-related health problems have caught the attention of homeowners throughout the country. The problem has become so widespread that some insurers have excluded mold from their homeowner coverage.


The health effects of mold are still widely disputed, but people with mold allergies can experience a wide range of health problems.


Ed Fronapfel, a Westminster-based forensic engineer estimates that he has examined about 3,000 homes with extensive mold resulting from poorly designed or improperly ventilated subfloors in the past seven years.


Removing the mold can cost $30,000 to $150,000, depending on the extent of the mold, he said.


Justin Carey, a project manager for Onyx Superior Special Services, a Denver-based mold remediation firm, said his company is negotiating with several large production homebuilders to remove mold from their homes.


He declined to name the builders.


While some homeowners said they have struggled to get Richmond to respond to their mold claims, at least one buyer said the company was very responsive.


Pat Bailey, a Richmond homeowner contacted by The Denver Post, learned through a neighborhood newsletter that some of his neighbors were having mold problems. He contacted the builder, who promptly had the home tested and installed a moisture barrier.


``They took care of it right away," he said.












Angry Lake Ridge town house buyers who saw more than 100 trees next to their homes destroyed accused the developer of lying to them and blamed the county for not informing them about the trees' fate.

The owners of the homes on Tonbridge Place said sales agents for Richmond American Homes told them the large grove that backed up to their lots was protected and charged them an extra $3,000 each for being near the trees.

Richmond American denied it had misled anyone, saying it didn't own the trees and didn't know about the tree cutting until it began.

The Board of County Supervisors, which heard the complaints last week, also began the process of changing regulations so that future home buyers wouldn't be blind sided and would know when large numbers of trees are about to come down.

"We're the people who allowed this to happen," said Supervisor Mary K. Hill (R-Coles). "Our policies allowed this to come about. I think it's wrong."

The trees were cleared by another developer to make way for town houses.

Tonbridge homeowner Ray Roeske told supervisors Wednesday that he bought his three-bedroom, $156,000 town home in March after a Richmond American agent assured him the grove would remain. That feature was one of the main reasons he bought the house, he said, since he wanted a place that was quiet and peaceful.

He said he later went to the county's planning office and looked at plans that confirmed the protected stature of the grove. But one day in late June, bulldozers began ripping out all the trees. Within a few days, the area was flattened. What Roeske didn't see when he went to the planning office were revised plans for the area that would be approved shortly after he bought his house.

Roeske said that he thinks Richmond American knew what was going to happen and didn't tell him and that if he had known the trees were going to go, he wouldn't have bought the house. He estimates that his house has lost thousands in resale value and said he can't let his children play outside because of the heavy equipment cruising past his property.

"The whole neighborhood feels that they got duped," said Roeske, who said he's considering legal action against Richmond American. "It was a very attractive area. We believed the area was protected. Now I sit on my back deck, and I look at a six-foot retaining wall."

Ken Berg, Richmond American's vice president for land development, said his company had no foreknowledge that the trees were coming down when it sold the homes. He did confirm that buyers like Roeske were shown site plans of the adjacent development, outlining how the trees would be preserved. But he emphasized that the trees were on land Richmond American did not control and that it didn't know anything about felling the trees until he got calls from Tonbridge residents. Berg refused tocomment on the alleged $3,000 fee for being near the trees.

"The developers of the adjacent property changed that plan, and we have absolutely no control over that," Berg said. "What can you do but show the {earlier} approved site plan? What more can you do? . . . We absolutely had no knowledge that the plan had changed. We represented the plans as they existed. . . . We didn't do anything wrong in the whole situation."

Tonbridge residents such as Monica Moran don't see it that way. Moran said she and her husband bought a house on Tonbridge a year ago after two Richmond American representatives assured her the trees would stay. Now she thinks she'll have a tough time renting her house when her family moves to California. Every morning at 7, bulldozers wake her up, she said.

"It's extremely frustrating," Moran said. " . . . Life is a learning experience, but this one is going to hurt. You feel they basically lied to us."

Susan Roltsch, the chief of development services for the county's planning office, said the 9,737 square-foot tree preserve stood on land owned by Ridgeleigh development firm. Roltsch said the original site plan for the development of that parcel left the trees untouched. But in January 1996, she said, the developer asked for a revision of the plan that removed the trees to make room for town houses. The planning office gave final approval for that change five months later.

She said that under current regulations, such changes are done administratively without any public hearing.

Now Roltsch and her staff are looking at ways to alter that so such changes are made more public before they happen.

But Roltsch said she doesn't know whether there is any way to have stopped the Tonbridge area trees from being flattened since the county can't require builders to create tree preserves.

Both of those issues, Roltsch said, will be presented to supervisors in September for their review.










The builder's one-year warranty on their new houses had expired before Nancy Clawson or Debbie Colbert noticed that anything was wrong.

But now, the wood around some of their windows is rotting. Masonite siding on the exterior of their homes is discolored from mildew and improper installation, they say. Ceiling material is falling off and walls are sagging because rain is leaking through.

Both women live in the Country Lane neighborhood in south Seminole County, which was developed by Richmond-American Homes. They say they have pestered the builder repeatedly, but that all they get are excuses, delays and patch-up jobs that don't repair underlying problems.

Living room windows, for example, were installed without what the county building department says are standard waterproofing techniques such as the use of flashing, a piece of sheet metal that lines the inside of wooden joints, Colbert said.

The two women said they know of four families who asked Richmond-American to repair their windows. The developer sent work crews out to replace rotting wood with new trim, but still did not install waterproofing materials even the second time around, Colbert said.

Since the last home in Country Lane was built two years ago, Richmond-American has sold its assets and rights to do business in Florida to Lennar Homes, which has a regional office in Altamonte Springs.

A Lennar Homes official acknowledged Monday that problems remain in Country Lane. Bill Moore, the company's vice president for finance, said the developer is talking with Richmond-American officials in Texas to try to determine who is responsible for paying for repairs.

Moore said a company called Homeowners Warranties insures that structural defects on a home found within 10 years after it is built will be repaired.

But Clawson said the warranty company has been just as unresponsive as the builder.

Colbert said she has been fighting with Richmond-American and Lennar Homes longer than any of the 153 other property owners in Country Lane. She and Clawson have collected at least 25 signatures from their neighbors on petitions calling on the developer to repair all defects and reimburse homeowners for costs they have incurred.

The neighborhood's homeowners association may consider filing a class-action suit against Richmond-American Homes, Colbert said. Residents have scheduled a meeting for Saturday morning to discuss their options.

Colbert's husband, Alan, has been transferred to Clearwater and they need to sell their house, she said. But the real estate broker through whom they bought the house won't list it because of the problems.

Clawson said the installation of her living room window was done so poorly that during heavy rains last November, water poured in through leaks above the window frame. The water soaked her carpet, which is now rotting, she said.

Other residents have leaking bathroom fixtures, cracked concrete blocks in their garages and sagging drywall that has become wet because of leaks, Colbert said. Richmond-American sent out a man with a caulking gun to Colbert's house when she complained about bathroom leaks, but she said that was only a cosmetic solution that didn't fix the problem.

Masonite siding on the houses, a compressed particle board, is discolored from mildew, Colbert and Clawson said. Homeowners who have had the problems inspected found that no felt paper, a vapor-proof lining, had been installed behind the siding.

Both women said that all the homes of a particular model in Country Lane appear to have the same problems. Several of the Primrose models, such as the one Clawson and her husband own, have leaking windows and rotting wood, she said.

County building director Bill Culbertson said that his department's four building inspectors don't have the time to check every detail of construction on the hundreds of homes that are built in Seminole County every month.

After the frame is checked, a home may not be visited by a county inspector until it is finished, Culbertson said.

Homeowners with complaints about builders who do not repair defective work should call his office, Culbertson said.















Dorothy Maxwell is stuck in the middle of a mucky situation. While everyone points the finger at someone else, the back acreage of her rural home on Brooks Lane remains soggy.

Maxwell contends that Tiffany Woods, the new development behind her house, and Seminole County are to blame for water standing in the back of her 5-acre rectangular lot.

Tiffany Woods representatives say the woman's property was always low and wet and say she is getting water from the nearby Tuskawilla Middle School, not their development on Tuskawilla Road. Search engine optimization

County representatives say the problem is a private matter between the developer and Maxwell, not a government issue.

But the county entered the dispute in January when commissioners voted to limit the number of building permits for Tiffany Woods until the drainage problem is resolved.

The problem still exists nearly a year after Maxwell first met with commissioners on the issue. Talks seemed to have stalled and Tiffany Woods is nearing its building permit limit.

Richmond American Homes in Casselberry, the developer of Tiffany Woods, will have to get commission approval to receive more than 60 building permits for the 74-lot subdivision.

Commissioners voted unanimously Jan. 8 to allow Tiffany Woods to apply for permits for just 37 homes. Believing a resolution was imminent, commissioners raised the limit by 8 permits on Feb. 12 and added another 15 on Feb. 26.

Commissioner Bill Kirchhoff ojected to raising the number of building permits on Feb. 12 and was absent from the Feb. 26 meeting.

The developer has obtained 53 permits. Maxwell said the county has added to her problem by continuing to approve permits.

Commissioner Barbara Christensen, who represents the Brooks Lane area, says Maxwell is being uncooperative. ''The woman thinks the county's going to put a gun to the developer's head and she'll get everything she wants.''

In an attempt to solve the dispute, Richmond American representatives offered to buy a 10-foot-wide, 953-foot-long drainage easement from Maxwell for $500 and install an underground drainage pipe.

Commissioners speculated that Maxwell thought the offer was too low, but Maxwell said she did not accept it because she was not confident the proposed 6-inch pipe could handle the problem.

The proposal was drafted by Richmond American's consulting engineers, Harling, Locklin and Associates of Orlando.

Maxwell hired Dave Crowsen of Initial Engineering in Orlando to draw preliminary plans to solve the problem.

Crowsen said he also does believe the 6-inch pipe could handle the amount of water that would be flowing off the properties, and he proposed a 10-inch pipe.

Maxwell said Crowsen's proposal would cost about $25,000 and Richmond American offered to pay just $6,000 of that cost. She says she should not have to pay $19,000 to solve a problem she did not create.

But Hugh Harling of Harling, Locklin and Associates thinks Maxwell contributed to the problem when she and her late husband added fill dirt to their property to build their home 13 years ago.

A comparison of aerial photographs taken in the 1940s and within the past year show that she and other Brooks Lane residents added fill, causing the rainwater runoff to flow through the back of their properties, Harling said.

Harling also said Maxwell's $25,000 worth of work included a road to 7 acres she owns adjacent to her parcel. The road would be needed if she develops the land, he said. Tiffany Woods should not be expected to pay development costs for another project, he said.

Maxwell said, however, that the $25,000 was for drainage alone. She said her plans did show a road, which would cost an additional $25,000.

Maxwell has the property for sale and is concerned about where a drainage easement would go. She says she does not want drainage to limit future development of the land.

But she says she is having trouble selling the 12 acres because Tiffany Woods' drainage system is not working.

Harling countered, however, that the drainage system was approved by the county and is working. He also said 6-inch pipes are routinely used to carry rainwater runoff and would be sufficient to handle the water on Maxwell's land.

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The county approved Tiffany Woods' drainage system based on the developer's assurances that it would work, said Public Works Director Larry Sellers. But it doesn't, he said.

The county has not accepted Tiffany Woods drainage into its maintenance program because the system is not working, Sellers said. Drainage systems usually are accepted shortly after they are completed, he said.

Sellers also said Harling is right that water from Tuskawilla Middle School is flowing onto Maxwell's land.

Benny Arnold, school board assistant superintendent for facilities and transportation, said he had not heard of the drainage problem.

Sellers also agreed with Harling that portions of Maxwell's property are low and close to the water table.

Maxwell said she did not have standing water on her land all year until after Tiffany Woods built up the property behind her by five or six feet and dug its retention pond there.

Las Vegas search engine placement president of Richmond American Homes, said he was willing to talk with Maxwell about an agreement even though he does not believe his development caused a problem.






















 


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