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Realty Times - Grassroots Groups Claim Bullock Victory As Their Own
Friday, 22 October 2004

Grassroots Groups Claim Bullock Victory As Their Own
by Broderick Perkins -
Realty Times
"A victory for Sandra Bullock brings to an end a long grueling trial that sends a loud message to lawmakers, the home building industry and a message of hope for home buyers of defective homes across the nation," said Jane Ahmad, president of San Antonio, TX-based Home Owners For Better Building (HOBB).

Realty Times
Grassroots Groups Claim Bullock Victory As Their Own
by Broderick Perkins
Grassroots consumer advocacy groups say a movie star's real life courtroom drama is a symbolic victory for all homeowners who've suffered construction defects -- and the movie star appears to agree.

Experts claim serious new-home construction defects turn up in as many as 15 percent of all homes built.

The home building industry disagrees and says defects are isolated events that become headlines because of over-zealous attorneys and other factors.

In any event, a celebrity court suit took the issue to center stage.

After four days of deliberations, an Austin, TX jury last week awarded actress Sandra Bullock, 40, nearly $7 million in a long-awaited verdict that pitted "Miss Congeniality" against her former architect and builder who constructed her lakefront home in Austin.

Bullock said, in a written statement after the verdict was reached, "I felt firmly committed to see this process through to a just conclusion, no matter what the outcome, especially for all those homeowners who could never afford to come this far."

Three years ago, not Bullock, but the architect, M.B. "Benny" Daneshjou, 52, sued the actress claiming she owed money to his company for designing and building her $6.5 million, 10,000-square-foot home.

Bullock counter-sued, claiming much of Daneshjou's construction work wasn't good enough to be a stand in for real craftsmanship.

During the two-month-long trial, witnesses testified to a multitude of problems including construction that caused water damage, poor roof framing, faulty wiring within the drywall and damage to the masonry. Because of the problems, Bullock elected not to live in the home built in 1997. Construction on the home remains incomplete.

Testimony centered on non-compliance with Austin's building codes, construction defects including problems with flashing that caused excessive water intrusion, defectively installed rock work, stucco and roofing materials, damage to framing, rotting wall board, and the presence of toxic stachybotrus mold. Bullock also took the stand in the case.

The $7 million award includes more than $2 million for repairs to the house, $200,000 for maintaining the house since February 2000, $280,425 in excess labor charges and undisclosed legal fees.

Daneshjou blamed problems on a former project manager and subcontractors on the job. The jury found the project manager had breached his contract, but ultimately held Daneshjou responsible for damages.

As expected, he plans to appeal.

"A victory for Sandra Bullock brings to an end a long grueling trial that sends a loud message to lawmakers, the home building industry and a message of hope for home buyers of defective homes across the nation," said Jane Ahmad, president of San Antonio, TX-based Home Owners For Better Building (HOBB).

Grassroots groups for years have struggled to get cases heard about defects some critics say involve some 150,000 homes a year, but the cost of a protracted trial is more than the average homeowner can afford or, in many cases, even approach given laws and contracts that prevent court cases.

"I don't think that the average middle-income home owner is going to pursue such a case. (Bullock) didn't have mandatory binding arbitration in her contract and I believe every one of the big national builders do. The only individuals who are going to get good legal representation are those who can join a class action suit, unless they are big-dollar cases," which wealthy homeowners can afford to bring to trial, said Nancy Seats, president and founder of St. Louis, MO-based Homeowners Against Deficient Dwellings (HADD).

Bullock was in Los Angeles working on a new film when the verdict was read. Her father, John Bullock, told reporters the actress was satisfied with the verdict, but undecided about what to do with the house.

"We are encouraged that Sandra Bullock's trial will help send a message to legislators in the upcoming 2005 legislative session for the need to regulate the home building industry and the passage of a Home Lemon Law to give warranty protection to home buyers of Texas. Because of tort reform and binding arbitration clauses in new home builder contracts for the past decade, literally tens of thousands of homeowners with defective homes have been denied their day in court," Ahmad said.

Link:http://realtytimes.com/rtcpages/20041019_bullockvictory.htm

Published: October 19, 2004

 
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