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Conflict of Interest Inspections Means Trouble
Wednesday, 01 August 2007

Owner Says New Home Passed Inspection With Major Flaws
"I think the mentality was get her done, paint it and it will be fine, nobody will know. I didn't know at first," says Norman...He says inspections are being done on 34 of the more than 50 homes in the neighborhood and a number of problems have been found...State Legislators changed the law regarding building inspections. Where city inspectors used to do site inspections, the job has now been turned over to private inspectors that are hired by the property owner.

Owner Says New Home Passed Inspection With Major Flaws

John Norman

A wall hangs over its foundation by two and a half inches.


exposed threaded rods

open gap

Jay Howanitz

Tom Goldsbury

By Jackelyn Barnard  See Video Reports
First Coast News

JACKSONVILLE, FL -- At first glance, it looks like four sturdy walls hold up the home, but John Norman says that's not the case.

"If a hurricane comes, I'm out of here," says Norman.

Norman says he bought the house as an investment. The plan was to live there five or ten years and then sell.

The only problem is Norman says he now owns a home, that is less than two years old, and is worth nothing.

"I'm stuck with this. I cannot turn it into a rental in good conscience, nor can I sell it. So, I'm stuck with this property," says Norman.

Norman says he moved into the Morse Glen subdivision in November 2005.

It is a Drees Homes neighborhood, a builder based out of Kentucky.

Norman says less than two months after moving into the new neighborhood, he started to notice things out of place.

At first, he says he spotted a threaded rod, which should not be visible. The rod is responsible for anchoring the house down.

"I damaged my foundation with a weedwacker. I cracked the foundation and exposed another threaded rod. At that time, I discovered the rear wall of the house was overhanging the foundation," says Norman.

The wall hangs over its foundation by two and a half inches. It should be flush to the slab.

Contractors, who Norman hired, noted there is a "lack of support" for that wall.

"I think the mentality was get her done, paint it and it will be fine, nobody will know. I didn't know at first," says Norman.

Norman says his neighbors didn't notice either. A trip down the road, Norman says he found even more threaded rods exposed.

Several can be found right by the front door of one home. An open gap between the frame and the foundation was found at another house.

Some foundations are cracking. Norman says he also spotted another home where a wall also hangs over its foundation by several inches.

The homes did go through inspections and passed. "Where this rod should be is embedded in the foundation. If we have a storm come through it will save the house from having the roof torn off. It's a very critical situation," says Norman's attorney, Jay Howanitz.

Howanitz is now investigating the problems found at Morse Glen.

He says inspections are being done on 34 of the more than 50 homes in the neighborhood and a number of problems have been found.

Howanitz says the concern is a number of the homes do not meet Florida's strict building code.

"The inspector needs to catch it and that homebuilder also should be the one to make sure it gets done the way it should have been done. This was a situation where a lot slipped through," says Howanitz.

Howanitz says he believes there are several factors in the problem.

One... Drees homes bought out the company that originally started building the homes.

The other factor, Howanitz says, may have to do with a law change that happened about four years ago.

State Legislators changed the law regarding building inspections. Where city inspectors used to do site inspections, the job has now been turned over to private inspectors that are hired by the property owner.

In new subdivisions, the builder is the property owner until closing is complete.

The City's chief building inspector, Tom Goldsbury, says he doesn't whole heartedly support the change.

"Then and now I've had mixed feelings. If it's done right I don't have any problem with it... when not done right, there's problems," says Goldsbury.

Goldsbury says he has a team that makes random checks on private as well as public inspectors routinely to make sure they are doing their jobs right.

Goldsbury says he has also investigated John Norman's complaints. "It (flaws) should have been caught," says Goldsbury.

Drees Homes declined to talk on camera but did give First Coast News a letter stating it is aware of Mr. Norman's concerns.

Drees says it contacted other homeowners asking if they had any problems. The company says it is, "unaware of other dissatisfied homeowners" in the neighborhood.

Drees says it has a 98 percent approval rating from those who bought their homes in Jacksonville.

The company also noted it has tried to make repairs to Norman's home, but he will not allow "further access to his home."

Norman says Drees did come out and make some repairs.

For the exposed rod in the back of the house, "Put iron on it and it's fine." Norman says he doesn't think the fix will hold in a hurricane.

As for other repairs done to his neighbor's homes, "All they did was set up form board and fill the area with quick crete... you can tell it's not from a concrete plant."

Norman says the load bearing wall is starting to sag and that is why he's stopped Drees from doing any other repairs.

"I have zero confidence in the builder to make me whole at this point," says Norman.

As for the inspector, the owner of BPS says he inspected Norman's home and failed it. He also says the next day another inspector from his company went out to the house and passed it for the final inspection.

BPS says that inspector no longer works for them.

The City says it's done its research on Drees Homes and it is not considered a problem builder.

First Coast News has learned the state's Department of Business and Professional Regulations is investigating the situation.

No lawsuits have been filed. Attorneys say they want to finish inspections on all 34 homes before paperwork is filed.

Created: 7/31/2007 12:31:26 PM

Updated: 8/1/2007 8:49:18 AM

Edited by  Jackelyn Barnard, Reporter
http://www.firstcoastnews.com/news/news-article.aspx?storyid=88135

 
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