The construction defect crisis that has gripped families in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York has expanded from stucco-clad homes to include houses with vinyl brick, stone veneer and fiber cement sidings, according to a new report from Philadelphia’s 6ABC.
Moisture Infiltration Epidemic Just Got Bigger
Speaking to homeowners in the Philadelphia area, journalists Nydia Han and Heather Grubola have discovered a true epidemic of water intrusion, which is leaving homes throughout the Northeast crumbling from the inside out. While the problem at first appeared limited to houses clad in stucco, a synthetic plaster, new evidence suggests that thousands of other homes may have also been built improperly during the housing boom that ended a little over a decade ago.
“America’s luxury home builder” Toll Brothers is well-represented, but ABC’s team also spoke to families who own houses built by national residential developer Pulte and Wilkinson Homes, a company with communities in Pennsylvania and Delaware.
Housing Boom Led To Shoddy Work
Many experts believe that the most recent real estate bubble led to a frenzy of construction, a frenzy often characterized by carelessness, negligence and, sometimes, outright wrongdoing.
Vital industry standards and building codes were forgotten in the rush to push more housing supply into a flourishing market. This fever of construction is now coming back to hurt families, 6ABC suggests, as more and more homeowners discover widespread water damage, disintegrating wood and toxic black mold.
Vinyl-Sided Houses At Risk Of Water Damage
Some residential builders, though, aren’t stepping up to the challenge, Han and Grubola write. The reporters spoke to the Adams family, who purchased a Toll Brothers-built home in Furlong, Pennsylvania. While the structure is only 13 years old, a thorough inspection of the property revealed substantial evidence of water damage.
Rob Lunny, a water management expert and founder of Lunny Building Diagnostics, performed the investigation. “I inspected the brick,” Lunny said, “There are multiple installation deficiencies in the brick system, even on the vinyl siding.” Lunny’s conclusion is clear. This might not be a problem with stucco alone, but a “water management problem that we’re facing.”
The construction of the Adams’ home wouldn’t pass muster by Furlong’s current building codes, according to Lunny. In fact, the house wouldn’t have been up to industry standards or local building codes 13 years ago, when it was initially built.
These aren’t theoretical problems. They have real consequences. The Adams’ two-year-old son, Jackson, lives with a compromised immune system. He can no longer use his bedroom due to mold concerns. Of course, financing repairs is another major concern. Remediation projects can easily cost $100,000, with some large-scale jobs reaching even higher.
Toll Brothers: $324M In Remediation Costs
Some families have already taken their builders to court. Our experienced attorneys are representing dozens of them, including homeowners living in residential communities built by the David Cutler Group. The water damage epidemic, however, goes far beyond a single developer. National home builder Toll Brothers has come under considerable fire for its own stucco-clad homes. The company estimated in 2015 that it could be on the hook for up to $80.3 million in repairs. Now, that we have evidence the problem is not isolated to stucco homes, it’s no surprise that Toll Brothers’ potential liability has skyrocketed.
The developer’s 2016 financial reports note $324.4 million in remediation liability, a more than 300% increase over the previous year. Over $115 million of that total is ear-marked for “non-stucco homes” damaged by water intrusion.
Where that money is actually going, however, isn’t entirely clear. Toll Brothers has started repairs in the Adams’ home, offering remediation solutions for the problems that directly affect their son’s room. In addition, the company has agreed to pay for the family’s accommodations while the work is conducted. Limited repairs aren’t enough, though, the Adams family says. They think the whole house needs to be rebuilt, a process that will cost in the six figures.
Statute Of Limitations Frustrates Repair Efforts
Many of the other homeowners who spoke to 6ABC say that their builders have done nothing to fix their water damage problems. ABC’s reporters gathered their sources in a single auditorium for an informal question-and-answer session. Most of the families said that their builders had refused to perform any repairs. This was especially true for homeowners with older houses, quite possibly because they had already lost the right to sue.
In Pennsylvania, most construction defect lawsuits – including water damage claims – are bound by a 12-year Statute of Repose. That means most complaints will be automatically dismissed from court if the home’s construction was completed more than 12 years ago.
The reporters asked homeowners with houses older than 12 years whether or not their developers had cited the home’s age as a justification for refusing repairs. Every one of these families said “yes.” In fact, each homeowner proved it, producing a denial letter from Toll Brothers that read: “Any claims […] exceed all warranties that were carried on your home, as well as any statutory periods within which claims must be made. Due to this fact, Toll Brothers will not take any steps…”
Can PA Congress Changes Things For The Better?
Hopefully, change will be coming relatively soon for these homeowners – at least those who own houses in Pennsylvania. State Representative John Galloway, a Democrat from Bucks County, is currently working on a slate of legislative solutions. One of his proposals would see Pennsylvania’s Statute of Repose changed, which could give families more time to file a construction defect lawsuit. Another potential fix would be to require that home builders notify their customers of known defects.