KB Home criticism, lawsuits growing

Video Courtesy of Channel 8 News, Tampa

Reporting By Shannon Behnken

Published September 29, 2012

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It started when angry homeowners in Bradenton spoke out about mold, leaks and collapsing balconies that they say their builder, KB Home, won't take care of.


As details emerged, including a whistleblower lawsuit claiming the company concealed the defects, other neighborhoods have come forward with similar complaints.


The 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 anymore.

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 ask.

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 homes anyway."

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 there.

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.