Video Courtesy of Channel 8 News, Tampa
By Shannon Behnken
September 29, 2012
allegations have raised questions about KB Home, one of the
nation's largest homebuilders, and the quality of its work.
In the past five weeks,
people living in 11 neighborhoods across four Florida
counties have complained about shoddy construction. They say
houses are cracking and band-aid repairs don't fix anything.
"It's been kind of a
nightmare living in a KB Home because it's never fixed
right, never feels livable," said Charlie Beale, a
homeowner in the Palm River Townhomes in Tampa.
Residents in the Willowbrook neighborhood,
near Lakewood Ranch, started a public campaign to try to persuade KB to
buy their homes back. They've held protests, spoken before the county
commission and reached out to other KB neighborhoods.
Willowbrook homeowners say they've fought
with KB Home for years and gotten nowhere. After recent storms, some of
their balconies collapsed. Manatee County building inspectors have deemed
more than 30 of the condos unsafe.
|Some contractors have told
them their condos are in such bad shape, it would cost
more to fix than to replace them.
KB at first issued only
statements and wouldn't answer questions, but last week
that changed when KB Home regional President George Glance
toured Willowbrook and spoke to the media. He insists KB
will fix all the problems in all the neighborhoods.
"The important thing
is that we're standing behind our warranty and will fix
homes," Glance said.
Residents, though, say they're tired of
KB's "fixes," and don't trust them. Some, including Kelly Hayes,
a homeowner in Willowbrook, says she's not going to allow KB in her home
Hayes says KB has fixed her balcony a
number of times. It still leaks, and so does her window. She puts towels
around it to soak up water when it rains. The paint is chipping, exposing
mold. "I say no," Hayes said. "You need to buy back my
home, and I'm done with this."
Now, KB residents have new questions to
A federal whistleblower lawsuit, filed in
2007, alleges KB executives knew about but concealed "life
threatening structural defects" in Willowbrook.
The suit, filed by a former human resources
director, says sales agents were told to "proceed with closing on
The plaintiff, Ruben O'Neil, says he went
to management with concerns after employees went to him for advice. He
said he was fired when he refused to go along with the plan to conceal the
problems, according to the suit.
The suit says an engineering report showed
KB used "substandard/inadequate materials in the construction of the
rear-load-bearing wall of 50 to 60 townhomes."
"These defective walls posed a serious
threat of harm to the would-be homeowners and the public-at-large because
there was a high probability that the rear wall would collapse in the
event of a hurricane or a strong wind."
The Willowbrook problems also have raised
questions about the work of the Manatee County building department.
A private contractor, hired by a homeowner
to find out why her unit leaked, ripped out drywall and discovered what he
says are numerous building code violations. These include boards not
nailed down and hurricane straps missing.
"I feel people are at risk," said
Michael Hamilton, of contractor CMM Commercial Contractors Inc. "It's
a travesty that this passed inspection, and Manatee County needs to step
up to the plate and take responsibility."
The county has insisted it missed nothing.
A look at building plans submitted to the county by KB indicates it may
have, after all.
The building plans for the unit Hamilton
inspected call for a particular hurricane strap, called sp2 strapping.
Contractors say it became the gold-standard after Hurricane Andrew.
Those straps, though, were not installed in
the condo Hamilton reviewed.
Manatee County Building Director John
Barnett has questioned Hamilton's statements and said he doesn't think an
inspector would have approved the construction if the straps weren't
Meanwhile, a Clearwater homeowner, Bryson
Bort, took his case against KB Home to court Monday in St. Petersburg. It
was the first hearing in his case, which alleges KB knowingly sold him a
defective home and breeched its contract by not making repairs.