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River Oaks - Tremont Homes
Friday, 08 April 2005

Frustrated home owners protest builder
Fogal and Mickelson contend they both have suffered the frustration of trying to get the builder of their homes, Stature Construction Inc. and Turner Construction Inc., to repair defects they say are due to substandard construction, including water leaks, possible mold growth and cracks in the exterior. Further, they say their choices for compromise are now limited... Fogal questions the ethics of allowing a group of individuals who may practice “defective” construction building to participate in further home development. Moreover, she says there is a complicated web of business entities that share managing officers — a group that includes the builders and developers of her home and Michelson’s — and that it’s extremely difficult to get straight answers from them.

Frustrated home owners protest builder
EXPRESSING CONCERNS: Home owners and consumer advocates gathered outside Juliet Homes’ new town home complex at 5338 Washington to protest the builder and raise awareness of consumer protection laws.

LESLIE CONTRERAS 07.APR.05

Holding signs of lemons and wearing bright yellow clothes, Montrose home owners Jordan Fogal and Heather Mickelson joined a group of protesting home owners last month in front of Juliet Homes’ new luxury town home community, Washington Square at 5338 Washington Ave.

They had come to express their frustration with the state of consumer protection for home buyers in Texas and to complain about the builder’s association with home developer Tremont Homes.

Fogal and Mickelson contend they both have suffered the frustration of trying to get the builder of their homes, Stature Construction Inc. and Turner Construction Inc., to repair defects they say are due to substandard construction, including water leaks, possible mold growth and cracks in the exterior. Further, they say their choices for compromise are now limited.

Fogal questions the ethics of allowing a group of individuals who may practice “defective” construction building to participate in further home development. Moreover, she says there is a complicated web of business entities that share managing officers — a group that includes the builders and developers of her home and Michelson’s — and that it’s extremely difficult to get straight answers from them.

“They’re all trying to distance themselves from each other and make it so complicated that if you wanted to know who owned anything, you would be in a maze worse than a rat,” said Fogal.

The developers of Fogal’s home at Hyde Park Crescent, 1515 Hyde Park Drive, and Mickelson’s home at Tremont Towers, 3311 Yupon St., share managing officers and continue to build through other home builders, they said.

Fogal and her husband purchased a $360,000 town home at Hyde Park Crescent, developed by Tremont Homes Inc. According to records from the Texas Secretary of State’s office, Thomas P. Thibodeau is listed as Tremont Homes’ president, while Amad Al-Banna is listed as its vice president.

Stature Construction, the builder of Fogal’s home, lists “Tom Thibldeau” as president and Jorge Casimiro as secretary.

Michelson purchased her $233,000 unit at the Tremont Towers condominium complex from Tremont Tower, L.P., a company with a general partnership also led by Thibodeau, Casimiro, and Al-Banna.

The records also show that Stature president, Tom Thibodeau, and secretary, Jorge Casimiro, are listed as agents, members or officers of more than 25 other builders and housing developing business organizations.

At the protest, Bernie Kane, who said he is the co-owner of Juliet Homes LLC with Douglas Brown, also said Juliet Homes acts as a marketing company for Tremont Homes and is otherwise not associated with the developer. Juliet Homes also currently markets for Tremont Homes’ Midtown Village community.

Fogal’s purchase agreement with Stature Construction includes a clause that states she gives up her right to go to court in the event of a dispute and instead is bound to go to binding arbitration. Since April 2002, she contends that correspondence between her and the builder’s representative, Tremont Homes, has led to little satisfaction.

Fogal said that her home has been affected by water intrusion caused by roof-flashing problems and plumbing flaws, which have in turn created mold, cracks in the exterior, sagging floors, a collapsed ceiling and a caving shower wall.

She had hoped that because of Tremont Homes’ membership with the Better Business Bureau, she would have the option to use the bureau’s arbitration process instead of the standard recourse offered through the American Arbitration Association. She believes that AAA’s arbitrators largely come from the building and developing industry and could be biased.

However, Tremont Homes has declined to use the Better Business Bureau’s arbitration process, and their membership with the bureau has since been revoked.

Since that time, Fogal has again wrangled with the attorneys for Stature Construction to choose an arbitrator, a process that has been on-going for months. She and her husband have put their home up for foreclosure, she said, and may file for bankruptcy because of having to make house payments on a home that is unlivable, while maintaining a second residence.

When Fogal, 60, started protesting months ago, she hoped that she could get Tremont Homes to buy her home back from her. Now, she says she just wants to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.

“I’m the victim here. Why can the builder who did this to me make me go (to AAA), when I don’t want to go, because I know it is not a fair process?” said the non-fiction writer, sitting among various papers in her Memorial apartment. “I know that is throwing good money after bad. The most they can award me is $350,000 — the price of my home. I’m not going to get damages so that means I (can) go through all this, they write me a check to my mortgage company, and I hand it over to my mortgage company. How did I get helped?”

Mickelson does not expect to go through the arbitration process, but said she also will have to file bankruptcy.

She bought her home in July 2004, and claims that she smells mold in her bathroom, that leaks from her windows are causing bulging in her hardwood floors, and that a defective water heater and poor ventilation have drained her emotionally and financially. Like Fogal, she says her builder was unresponsive or did not properly address her complaints.

“I thought I was making a good investment,” said Mickelson, 26, and an interior finishing specialist.

Mickelson painted a lemon on her window, which can be viewed from the street on Montrose. She said she has been issued a warning from the Tremont Tower condominium association that she may accrue $200 a day in fines if she does not remove the sign.

A letter dated March 24 to Mickelson from Casimiro at Tremont Tower L.P. denied she was having the problems she claimed and reiterated that that her home was built by Turner Construction and further allegations should be directed to that business.

The letter continues that Mickelson’s lemon sign on her window is potential business disparagement for Turner Construction, and that Tremont Tower L.P. has learned that Mickelson has “fostered motivations” from Fogal, who has protested outside Tremont Tower during the weekends.

Previously, representatives from Stature Construction likewise have denied Fogal’s claims and have reportedly said adequate reparations for problems in her unit had already been offered to her.

Calls Monday to representatives for Tremont Tower and Tremont Homes were not returned to the Examiner by press time.

Fogal hopes to raise awareness about what she believes is the state’s lack of protection for home buyers. Although the Texas Residential Construction Commission was created by the legislature in 2003 to protect consumers by requiring builders to register with the state, she and other consumer advocates believe that the commission does not have enough power to properly monitor the housing industry.

Currently, Juliet Homes is listed as having a canceled registration with the Texas Residential Construction Commission. A registration is a requirement of all home builders that build in the state of Texas.

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