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“Experts say faulty construction is allowing thousands of stucco homes to crumble. We think developers and contractors should be held responsible.”
— Perry Liss, Esq.
Throughout the northeast, homeowners have been shocked to learn that their new stucco-clad homes are rotting from the inside out. When installed properly, stucco can withstand weather and wear for decades. It appears, however, that thousands of homes across the state were poorly constructed, allowing moisture to cause serious structural damage.
Pennsylvania, New Jersey & New York Families File Stucco Lawsuits
With property values plummeting and many families exposed to the health hazards of black mold, homeowners are beginning to fight back. Families are filing lawsuits against developers, contractors, subcontractors and even stucco manufacturers, claiming that their homes were built in violation of building codes and far below industry standards.
The last few years have seen an astonishing number of these stucco lawsuits filed in Pennsylvania’s courts. Experts say that thousands of homes in southeastern Pennsylvania could be affected by defectively-installed stucco. A group of Philadelphia-area contractors even set up their own website, OurStuccoHome.com, to inform homeowners of this widespread problem.
Water Damage In Stucco-Clad Homes
Over the last decade, residential developments have popped up across the northeast, with stucco construction most common in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Developers and contractor-vendors advertise new “luxury” homes, in communities with numerous amenities and state-of-the-art security measures. Price-tags can reach into the millions. There is, however, a hitch.
Homeowners across the state are learning that their stucco homes are marred by serious construction defects, putting themselves and their children at risk. Blaine Illingworth, a certified home inspector and stucco expert, has seen “walls buckle” in Pennsylvania, CBS Local reports. The risks of poor construction, however, go far beyond structural integrity. Mold can easily infiltrate a home’s wood sheathing, moving on to the wood framing and increasing the risk of significant health complications. If nothing else, most families are left with hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs.
In some cases, the troubling signs of water damage begin only a few years after a family has purchased their new dream home. Other homeowners only become aware of major stucco problems after a potential sale falls through. Barbara and Scott Fetterolf were ready to sell their home. They’d even found buyers, according to CBS Local. But those buyers quickly walked away from the deal after ordering their own moisture inspection. Rather than selling their home, the Fetterolfs were left facing remediation bills of up to $120,000.
Recognizing Water Damage
Even as it eats away at structural beams, water damage can be almost impossible for homeowners to notice.
The initial signs of moisture damage usually appear at windows or joints, places where the stucco comes to meet a different material. Discoloration and staining under interior or exterior windows is often the first warning. These “stucco tears” usually appear green or black, and are actually a sign that algae has begun to grow inside the stucco.
We suggest that homeowners carefully inspect the home for stains under windows and around skylights. Of course, you could always just cut into the wall, but that would leave unsightly gashes and require repair. Instead, look to the baseboard and trimming for signs that the wood has warped. This could mean that water is dripping down from a window above.
Stucco Moisture Inspection & Testing
Again, water damage is progressive, and may go on for years without ever making itself known. Some families have only become aware of the problem after watching ladders go up on the homes of their neighbors. The fact that remediation projects have begun in your own neighborhood is a good sign that you should consider an inspection, since many newer developments were constructed by the same company during a single time period.
Professional moisture inspection is the best, and often only, way to be sure. After drilling into the space under windows and other likely locations for moisture infiltration, experienced independent inspectors can use moisture probes and small video cameras to inspect the home’s internal structure for damage, diagnosing any problems in water circulation along the way.
Don’t rush into inspections too quickly. If you are considering a stucco lawsuit, the results of these inspections will likely provide crucial evidence in your claim. The work of independent moisture inspectors must be documented carefully – and photography might not be enough. Delaying an inspection isn’t a great idea, either. Water damage only gets worse, and you risk further devaluation of the property and more extensive repair costs, to say nothing of a potential collapse. In addition, Pennsylvania places strict time limits on defective construction lawsuits, so waiting to explore your legal options can put the possibility of filing a claim at risk.
The best course of action is to contact an experienced attorney immediately. A lawyer can put you in touch with the best inspectors for the job, and walk you through the costly remediation process.
Why Are Pennsylvania Homes Crumbling?
The evidence of water damage becomes easy to see once the layers of a house are peeled away. After tearing off the stucco and removing the felt and wrapping meant to protect internal walls, many families have discovered that their homes are literally crumbling from the inside out. Kevin Thompson, a home inspection expert, says that on one job, he found plywood “completely disintegrated.” He was able to “crush” a 2 x 6 plywood stud with his own bare hands.
Thompson, who spoke to Philadelphia’s ABC affiliate in 2013, says that most problems with stucco homes are due to “faulty construction.”
Stucco & Modern Construction Methods
Stucco has been used for more than a century in construction, but newer projects are being built with narrower wall cavities in the past. Less space between the home’s stucco wall and interior walls limits air circulation, preventing trapped moisture from drying out. Add in an improperly installed flashing and water damage is nearly guaranteed.
In contemporary building, stucco is usually a mixture of cement, sand and water, often with lime, a calcium-based material that makes the plaster more pliant and easier to work with. Lime also makes stucco more vulnerable to water, increasing the material’s permeability and solubility. Several homeowners have claimed that the stucco being used in modern construction projects is defective, utterly unable to withstand even the lightest rain. That could mean stucco manufacturers are liable for the damages incurred by some families.
Poor Construction & Violated Building Codes
Shoddy workmanship is another major concern. Developers and contractors take shortcuts everyday, hoping to save money and time. Some home builders use low-quality materials, despite many local building codes that require sheathing and insulation meet certain standards. Others fail to properly oversee the work of sub-contractors, who make careless mistakes themselves. Even worse, many contractors rushed to finish projects fast during the 2000s, hoping to turn a quick profit in the building boom. As a result, stucco jobs got less attention than they – and home purchasers – deserved.
Home builders are held to a high standard, both by state and local building codes and accepted industry standards. Stucco, for example, should be applied in three coats, each of which is allowed to dry and harden after application. Together, the coats are meant to measure approximately one-inch thick. There’s good evidence, though, that this standard isn’t being upheld throughout today’s “luxury” home industry. Nor are the codes surrounding flashings, strips of moisture-resistant material used to seal off the edges of windows, doors and walls. In some cases, flashings have been installed improperly, with their lip facing upward. Instead of allowing moisture to roll off the lip, a “reverse lapped” flashing actually funnels water directly into the wall cavity. Over time, that’s a major problem, one that can cause damage well beyond the cosmetic.
Breaking Stucco Lawsuit News
By Perry Liss
June 13, 2017 – New Jersey Construction Defect Lawsuit Ends In $10 Million Verdict
A New Jersey state court jury has awarded $10 million to a group of homeowners who say they were tricked into purchasing defective units in a six-story condo development in West New York, a town across the Hudson River from Manhattan. As Daily Business Review reports, lawyers for the plaintiffs argued that the condominium had been built in violation of local building codes and, despite knowing about the problem, the developer Hovnanian Enterprises failed to inform prospective buyers.
May 4, 2017 – Florida Homeowner Takes Stucco Contractor To Court
An Orlando man has filed suit against his residential contractor, accusing MI Homes of Orlando of violating building codes in the construction of his home’s stucco exterior. As the Florida Record reports, Orlando homeowner Tahir A. Malik claims that MI Homes, a luxury builder with properties throughout the United States, failed to follow the Florida Building Code and national materials standards. Malik’s complaint was filed in the 9th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida on April 4.
April 11, 2017 – Texas Couple Sues Builder Over Mold-Infested Home
Homeowners in Texas have filed suit against K. Hovnanian, a prominent Houston-based home builder, accusing the company of failing to honor its warranties, according to the SE Texas Record. The couple purchased their home in Galveston County on the understanding that the structure would remain “safe, sanitary and fit for humans to inhabit” for at least ten years. Shortly after moving in, however, the buyers found themselves facing a serious mold problem. The issue was so bad that the couple was eventually forced to move out of their home. To make matters worse, K. Hovnanian has refused to address the matter, the plaintiffs claim. The couple has now paid $15,440 to inspectors and other specialists in battling the mold growth, court documents report.
March 6, 2017 – Nonprofit Finds High Rate Of Construction Defects, Poor Worksmanship In Condo Properties
A new study from the Community Associations Institute has shown that the majority of construction defects are discovered in condominium developments, rather than single-family homes and town houses, Builder reports. Taking all property types into account, the non-profit’s analysis found that nearly 81% of homeowners complain of construction deficiencies stemming from poor-quality worksmanship. While most reported problems were not serious, according to the Community Associations Institute, 35% of alleged construction defects adversely impacted a property value’s and hurt the potential to resell a home.
February 22, 2017 – Colorado Legislature Considers “Informed Consent” Law To Reduce Construction Defect Litigation
Spurred by a downturn in condo construction in Denver, Colorado lawmakers have proposed a package of reforms intended to limit lawsuits filed over construction defects, the Denver Post reports.
Legal solutions currently working their way through Colorado’s legislative committees include an attempt to reduce insurance costs for home builders, expanding the right of a developer to repair homes before getting hit with a lawsuit, narrowing the definition of a construction “defect” and encouraging binding arbitration proceedings rather than trial litigation.
Critics of the initiative argue that new laws will only serve to nullify the constitutional right of homeowners to address grievances through the court system.
January 9, 2017 – Toll Brothers Faces Construction Defect Lawsuit From New Jersey Condo Association
Residential construction giant Toll Brothers has been hit with a new lawsuit in New Jersey, according to Law360. In their complaint, filed in state court on December 23, 2016, the Maxwell Place Condominium Association says that design and construction defects are threatening the structural integrity of three high-rise condo buildings in Hoboken. Toll Brothers oversaw the design and construction of all three buildings, the complaint reads.
The condominium association became aware of the alleged construction problems after condo owners were given control of the residence’s development board. Before that point, the condo’s development board had been run by P.T. Maxwell LLC, a company affiliated with Toll Brothers. Court documents say that analyses from two separate engineering firms discovered “substantial defects and deficiencies,” alleged issues that affect the condo’s parking garages, roof assemblies, boiler room equipment, windows and balconies, beyond the buildings’ envelope itself.
December 15, 2016 – Pennsylvania Attorney General Sues David Cutler Group Over
Amid a wave of homeowner-initiated lawsuits, Pennsylvania’s Attorney General has stepped in to address the growing crisis of stucco-clad homes affected by water damage.
In a new civil lawsuit, the State’s Attorney General Bruce Beemer accuses the David Cutler Group, one the Delaware Valley’s largest residential builders, of failing to uphold industry standards for new stucco construction. The suit also claims that Cutler “made misrepresentations to its customers by failing to provide weather-resistant new homes,” according to Philly.com. As Chief Deputy Attorney General Sarah Frasch says, “there are probably over 1,000 Cutler homes in the [Philadelphia] area. If the home has some of kind of stucco exterior finish or a similar substitute, those homes could have the same defect.”
To learn more about lawsuits filed against the David Cutler Group, click here.
January 17, 2017 – Florida Homeowners File Stucco Lawsuit Against National Builder
Families near Tampa, Florida are locked in a legal battle with David Weekley Homes, the nation’s largest privately-held home builder. Homeowners from eight separate residential developments say that their stucco-clad homes are riddled with construction defects, leading to wide-spread water damage and structural issues. The home builder, however, places the blame squarely on the shoulders of a subcontractor, A & D Construction, which went out of business in 2009. As SaintPetersBlog.com reports, Weekley reached out to A & D for assistance in the lawsuits, but has yet to receive a response.
Taking The Next Steps To Compensation
Stucco remediation is costly, but absolutely necessary, for any stucco-clad home that has experienced water damage. In some cases, spot repairs are all that is required, but even these minor fixes, which involve removing and replacing stucco at points of extreme moisture infiltration, can run families well over $20,000. More common, however, is a full stucco tear-down and reapplication. For best results, most stucco remediation experts suggest having the house’s pan and kickout flashing redone as well, projects that can lead to bills in the six-figures.
The range of costs, including window removal and replacement, goes from around $10,000 on the low-end to $250,000 for a full remediation, according to StuccoAnswers.com. Of course, those figures don’t include the costs of mold remediation, which many homes will need to become livable again. If dangerous amounts of mold are found in a home, families can expect to tack on an additional $1,000 to $5,000, to say nothing of having to relocate while these projects are completed.
How Do We Pay For Stucco Remediation?
A new home is likely the most expensive purchase anyone will ever make. For obvious reasons, most people would not make such large investments without at least the promise that problems due to construction defects will be taken care of. Many contractors offer warranties, essentially promising homeowners that if a defect is discovered, the necessary repairs will be made or compensation will be offered in lieu of contractor-performed repairs. While these warranties can extend up to 10 years for “major structural defects,” the Federal Trade Commission reports, they usually only cover stucco problems for one year after construction is complete.
Unfortunately, many homeowners only learn of moisture damage after their contractor’s warranty period is over. Homeowners’ insurance isn’t much help, either. Most insurance policies only cover damage caused by an “occurrence,” which is usually interpreted to mean accidents or events that happen in a discrete period of time. Stucco failure and water damage, on the other hand, occur over years and years, taking insurers off the hook for repairs.
Filing A Stucco Lawsuit For Water Damage & Repairs
Many homeowners are left with no other option but to file a civil lawsuit against the home’s developer or contractor-vendor.
In some cases, homeowners may be protected by specific language set out in signed contracts. But in Pennsylvania, new homes also come with “implied warranties.” These warranties aren’t written down in service contracts or state statute. Instead, they have been established by Pennsylvania’s court system to protect home purchasers from eating the cost of defective construction. Two specific “implied” warranties usually come into play in a stucco lawsuit:
- Implied Warranty of Habitability – In essence, this warranty entitles home purchasers to structures that can be lived in. If you knew beforehand that your home would fill up with water and develop black mold, you would never have purchased it in the first place. This warranty is particularly powerful, since it almost always applies regardless of what was written in contracts and whether or not the contractor was negligent.
- Implied Warranty of Workmanlike Construction – Beyond a warranty that your home will be habitable, the contractor also warranties that construction will be performed in a reasonably workmanlike manner, by following relevant building standards within the construction industry.
It’s shocking, but many contractor-vendors agree to repair improperly-built stucco homes and then go on to perform improper or incomplete repairs. In at least one recent Pennsylvania case, homeowners have even alleged that a builder concealed the extent of poorly-installed stucco from them, contracting to repair only one side of the house. After an independent inspection, the family says that experts discovered improper stucco construction on every level of the home.
The legal theories that we’ve already discussed, “implied warranties,” may also apply in these cases, when contractors allegedly perform inadequate repairs. Pennsylvania’s strong consumer protection laws are also likely to impact these lawsuits.
Consumer Protection Laws In Pennsylvania
A contractor’s marketing materials can make certain promises about the quality of work that will be performed. If a builder advertises itself as performing “high-quality construction,” or attests to following all local and state building codes, those statements imply that a certain standard will be upheld in completing the project.
Under Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law, contractor-vendors can be held responsible for violating their own self-representations. The state’s deceptive trade practice laws are extremely powerful in their own right, providing for “treble damages,” or three times the amount of compensatory damages.
Whether or not these legal arguments apply for subsequent purchasers is another matter. In a 2014 case, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court ruled that a subsequent home purchaser, despite evidence of defective construction, could not sue the contractor for breach of implied warranty of habitability. While other legal theories may still apply in these cases, they are often more difficult to prove.
How Long Do We Have?
Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations for cases involving breach of contract or warranty in the construction of homes is four years, beginning on the day that construction was completed.
However, since stucco damage often goes unnoticed for months or years, our attorneys may be able to have the statute of limitations “tolled,” or paused, via something called the discovery rule. In essence, the statute of limitations on your claim can be stopped if there was no reasonable way for you to discover the damage at an earlier date. When the discovery rule applies, the four-year statute of limitations begins running on the date that you became aware of the construction defect.
There is another rule, though, that provides a hard limit for claims involving defective construction. This “statute of repose” says that no homeowner can file a lawsuit for breach of warranty more than 12 years after construction was completed. After 12 years, it’s highly unlikely that you will have a viable case.
Contact A Pennsylvania Stucco Home Attorney
The experienced lawyers at the Liss Law Firm; Laffey, Bucci & Kent and Banville Law are currently investigating potential lawsuits involving defective stucco construction throughout Pennsylvania. We understand that you may be facing costly repairs or a full remediation. The idea of filing a lawsuit can seem overwhelming. That’s why our attorneys offer their services on a contingency-fee basis. If we don’t recover compensation in your case, you pay us nothing.
Think you have a claim? Our attorneys offer free consultations to any Pennsylvania homeowner interested in learning more about their legal options. Your family may be entitled to significant compensation, but again, the time for filing a claim is often limited by strict statutory deadlines. Contact us today to find more information on case eligibility.
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