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HOBB Update Message
Wednesday, 24 February 2010

A message from Janet Ahmad: Pulte-Centex Dominates the News as Houses Teeter on Hillside

A message from Janet Ahmad:
Pulte-Centex Dominates the News as Houses Teeter on Hillside 
Saturday, January 23, Rivermist Subdivision: As nightfall approached and families settled down for the day some described their evening as interrupted by a bit more new home settling noises than usual.  Throughout the night homes creaked, squeaked, moaned and groaned.  Little did residents know that they were literally in for a rude awaking Sunday morning.

Sunday morning, January 24: Phones range throughout the Rivermist Subdivision and when answered the conversation went something like; Good morning… this is the San Antonio Police Department, your community is being evacuated; you have two minutes to leave your home…   By 5:00 PM they and their subdivision was the subject of the national evening news.  By Wednesday homeowners were in Austin to tell their shocking story to the Texas House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee.

It has been 4 weeks since houses teetered on the manmade cliff and the city reported that the failure was due to improper construction of the retaining walls as well as improper compaction of fill and that the builder did not obtain building permits to construct retaining walls.  Like most new homebuyers little did these homeowners expect that buying new home in Texas could be so dangerous.  Most never knew that homebuilders were not licensed or regulated or that they had signed binding arbitration clauses giving up their constitutional right to sue Pulte-Centex homes.   

ivermist challenges will have a profound affect on San Antonio and all of Texas for years to come, as the Pulte-Centex debacle continues in the news.  Along with the dubious distinction of the Rivermist landslide and the dangers they faced comes a natural mistrust of Pulte-Centex as well as the city.  Their fame was not by choice and many where shocked to learn that this issue is bigger than their own personal suffering.  For too many years the scandals of the unregulated homebuilding industry, shoddy construction, abusive mandatory binding arbitration clause to limit builder liability has been brewing.  As a result of their life changing experience these families will forever be affected, outspoken and expressing their outrage.

The media was at the post office when nearly 100 Rivermist residents mailed letters to Pulte-Centex requesting their homes be bought back.  The good news is that Pulte-Centex Homes has responded and made 27 homeowners its first offers to buyback their homes.

Excellence in San Antonio investigative journalism has been tremendous.  The Express News has been amazing as well as all the TV stations and radio stations.  Just yesterday perhaps one of those events that might have gone unreported was feature by WOAI Channel 4’s  Brian Collister, Trouble Shooters;
City inspectors under investigation for taking bribes.   Then there was another article “ San Antonio shoddy home built” also by WOAI’s Janet Kwak that aired yesterday.  See these and other news reports below.

Rivermist hillside collapse is a remarkable wakeup call for aggrieved homeowners throughout the country.

Homebuilder accountability remains our sought after goal.  Home Owners for Better Building will continue to challenge injustices of forced binding arbitration, lack of consumer protections, the city’s lack of code enforcement and the state of Texas lack of regulation of the industry.   The benchmark was set in the last legislative session with the abolishment of the “Homebuilders Protection Agency,” the Texas Resolution Construction Commission (TRCC).  This was by far the most important victory in our battle to provide our members and their families with hope and opportunities to voice their concerns. 

Upcoming event:  I have been invited to speak at the Texas Homeowners for Home Owners Association Reform second State Conference on Saturday, March 6, 2010 from 8:00 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. in Houston , Texas .  The abuses by the building industry and its control over community HOA’s is a growing problem.
 For registration and further information see: Texas HOA Reform.org 

Be sure and read the latest news update below… Help us to help you by keeping in touch. Tell your story through HOBB, to your elected officials, and post your comments on the many news reports. 

Thank you,
Janet Ahmad, President
Home Owners for Better Building

News Updates:

San Antonio Building Inspectors under Investigation for Bribes
City code inspectors accused of taking bribes
When the retaining wall in the Rivermist subdivision collapsed last month, city inspectors admitted they didn't know the wall was even there.  Now, the news four WOAI trouble shooters uncovered new concerns that city inspectors aren’t doing enough to keep you safe inside your home.  When your house is under construction, city inspectors are supposed to inspect things like the plumbing and electrical wiring to make sure it's done right.  But we've uncovered some inspectors are the target of a criminal investigation for allegedly taking bribes from contractors in exchange for approving work they never checked.  Read more...

Another San Antonio shoddy home built
Couple sues home builder for shoddy home
Mold, cracked walls, unlevel ground, leaking floors. Not exactly something you want to deal with after moving into your remodeled home.  It's a situation Robert Overby and his family faced. That was three years ago.  "To buy the home, to make repairs, to make engineers come out... we've spent over $300,000 dollars," says Robert.  Robert wants the builder to fix these problems soon. A state commission came out in 2007 and found there were significant defects to the home...The builder has offered to buy the Overby home, but the couple refused because it's less than the contract price. They are now suing the city, SAWS, CPS, and the builder for 1.2 million dollars.  Read more...

Pulte-Centex and Toyota Reputations Compared
Toyota , Pulte learning crisis management
Toyota 's issues with unintended acceleration, floor mats, brakes and recalls and Pulte/Centex Homes' association with a frightening retaining wall failure have absorbed big chunks of San Antonio news media attention in recent weeks. Both situations offer useful lessons about crisis management to other organizations.  Read more...

Ryland Homes: Another Retaining Wall Failure
Residents Worried About Retaining Wall
Homeowners are worried about their safety and security, as they try to figure out where to turn to have the problem fixed.  The problem is easy to see; along a utility easement, a line of uneven, unstable fences are shifting due to an unstable retaining wall. Homeowner Nannette Neugart says the fence in her backyard completely collapsed one Christmas Eve...  Neighbors said they believe their safety and security are at risk. Read more...

Construction Defects and Mold
Homeowners sue builder over mold
Dozens of South Jersey homeowners, claiming inferior workmanship may have triggered mold growth and created a health risk, have sued the Quaker Group, a residential and commercial developer in New Jersey and Pennsylvania . The homeowners, who live in upscale developments in Cherry Hill , Marlton, and Voorhees, all have the same complaint: The company failed to caulk around windows and doors and neglected to install flashing, sheet metal strips that seal the edges. Water seeped into their homes and pooled between their walls, where mold can thrive, according to two complaints filed at different times in Camden County .  Some homes also lacked insulation or tar paper behind exterior walls, the complaints say. The complaints, filed by more than 40 homeowners, are pending in state Superior Court in Camden and follow a lawsuit that was filed by at least 20 others who bought Quaker homes in Gloucester County . Those cases have either been settled or been otherwise resolved.  Read more...

Lobby Watch: Texans for Public Justice - Homebuilder Bob Perry Buying Judges Again
Bob the Builder Invests In Judges As Lemon-Home Trial Begins
The Texas Supreme Court overturned two lower courts in May 2008 to gut an $800,000 award that an arbitrator levied against the justices’ top individual contributor: Houston homebuilder Bob Perry. Perry gave the nine justices a total of $76,250 before the court gutted the arbitrator’s award and ordered homeowners Bob and Jane Cull to pursue their lemon-home case against Perry Homes in state court, instead.  As the resulting trial in the decade-old Cull v. Perry Homes case heats up in a Fort Worth state district court, it is time to revisit Bob Perry’s judicial influence. Read more...  
Background Feature: Bob Perry and his political influence:  Homebuilder Bob Perry, the largest individual political contributor in Texas , to the Texas Supreme Court and possibly the country to limit builder responsibility… Texas Monthly:  How a new state agency of the builders, by the builders, and for the builders makes it harder for you to sue, yes, your builder.

Pulte-Centex Misleads Homeowners over Safety of Subdivision
Centex wrong about wall threat
The day after a towering retaining wall collapsed in a Northwest Side neighborhood, officials with Centex Homes told anxious residents that the San Antonio Fire Department was leaving the neighborhood because the danger had ended. The San Antonio Express-News received a video of the entire private meeting on Jan. 25 at a Drury Inn & Suites between Centex and residents of Rivermist and The Hills of Rivermist, filmed by an attendee. It shows Centex Homes’ Trey Marsh telling scores of families, “They don’t feel like there’s a threat anymore based on the work that we’ve done since this whole deal started.” Read more...

Centex keeps on building on the same street as landslide
New homes built in landslide neighborhood
Homeowners affected by a landslide in a Northwest Side neighborhood are asking why their builder is still building new homes in the neighborhood. Homes started sliding down a hill in the Hills of Rivermist subdivision in January when a retaining wall failed. The builder, Centex, has begun constructing several new homes nearby. News 4 WOAI checked with city officials and independent engineers Monday to see if the new construction was safe. News 4 WOAI was told the new homes are on solid ground, but that the builder needs to follow construction standards. "In the end, if they don't, then they won't get a certificate of occupancy," explained District 8 City Councilman Reed Williams. "So, there's still another checkpoint or two obviously."  Councilman Williams also said Centex is scheduled to be finished with an overall evaluation of the Hills of Rivermist problem by the end of February.  News 4 news report

San Antonio Builders Create Temporary Manmade Premium Hillside Views  See photos...

Pulte-Centex Homes Falling Apart
Rivermist Trickle Down
Some residents at the Hills of Rivermist say Centex officials aren't addressing the problem as a whole. Many who live in the subdivision, but not right by the collapsed retaining wall, say their homes are falling apart. Elsa Gonzalez says she's noticed many cracks and leaks in the past week and fears what's next. She is not one of the residents who was forced to evacuate as a result of the landslide. Centex officials tell us some movement is expected because of the rain, but that the land is stable and shored up. They also are inspecting all of the homes where families were forced to evacuate. Still, residents like Gonzalez say the only appropriate response by the company would be to buy back their homes. See KABB FOX news video report...

Pulte-Centex Homeowners Seek Support from Lawmakers
Landslide neighborhood homeowners look for support from lawmakers
It was a busy morning Saturday at the post office for some Northwest Side homeowners who say they are desperate for help. Residents of the Hills of Rivermist subdivision have seen their home values plummet since a landslide tore apart a retaining wall three weeks ago.We caught up with some of them at the post office in Helotes. They were mailing out letters, asking for help. The letters are addresses to lawmakers at every level; from San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro all the way up to President Barack Obama. “Hoping, hoping for answers,” explained Hills of Rivermist resident Will Ansel. “We haven't heard anything from Centex. It seems like they're hiding from us. It'd be nice to hear what they have to say.” Back at the subdivision our cameras caught a rather bizarre sight Saturday. On one side of the street a police officer stands outside a home that's now unsafe to set foot inside because of the landslide. On the other side of the street crews are busy at work on the foundation of a new home. View Video News Report: Landslide neighborhood homeowners desperate for help

House Cracking and Homeowners want House Bought Back
Cracks beginning to show in more Rivermist homes 
Chris Sadeghi / KENS 5 TV  February 14, 2010 As time drags on at the Rivermist subdivision, residents are growing more and more frustrated. Saturday, dozens of residents began a letter-writing campaign, many saying even if the wall is fixed, the problems created by the shifting soil will remain. Chris Sadeghi has the latest.  View Video report...

City and Builders Meet over Wall Issues
San Antonio builders must check all retaining walls built in past three years
An interesting status report was posted online tonight by San Antonio officials who are examining the retaining wall collapse at the Hills of Rivermist. Officials met with local builders, who were told they must review all retaining walls built over the past three years that are more than four feet tall. The builders must make sure an engineer designed each wall and that the structure was built correctly. And the builders must pull permits for each wall by March 31. The builders raised several concerns about the city’s permitting requirements, some of which were discussed in our story about the city’s lack of oversight of retaining walls. Read more...

Pulte Centex: County Commissioner take up Rivermist Landslide
Bexar commissioners look to learn lessons from Hills of Rivermist collapse 
KENS 5 staff Residents remain on edge in the Hills of Rivermist subdivision as measures continue to shore up the collapsed retaining wall there. Bexar County Commissioners are taking steps to avoid a similiar situation elsewhere. They'll hear a report Tuesday about the state of retaining walls on property in unincorporated ares of Bexar County . Meantime, developer Centex has hired a private firm to investigate exactly what happened at Rivermist. It should take about six weeks for that report

Pulte-Centex Rivermist: Needed wake-up call
Express-News Letter to the Editor: Needed wake-up call
Recently I participated in a hearing at the state Capitol in regards to mandatory binding arbitration. Filled with arbiters, trial lawyers, consumer groups and consumers, the hearings led to a tell-all of experiences with the homebuilding industry. As a victim of a homebuilder in Houston , I participated in earlier hearings asking our elected officials to enact laws protecting unsuspecting potential homebuyers if their homes are deemed defective, and making homebuilders responsible for all costs.  Aside from the abolishment of the Texas Residential Construction Commission, nothing changed and pleas remain unanswered. The San Antonio subdivision in which houses are literally sliding down a hill sends a wake-up call to legislators.  If you do nothing to hold the homebuilding industry accountable for mistakes, the next case could be catastrophic.  Marcia Kushner , Houston

Pulte-Centex Rivermist Landslide: Hundreds of Articles
ABC News: Engineers Watch Texas Homes for More Moving Soil
The developer, Centex Homes, worked Monday and Tuesday to stabilize the homes and the hillside. The land was still moving slightly Tuesday, but engineers ... Homes evacuated in San Antonio as hill crumbles Washington Post Ground collapse prompts evacuation (VIDEO) Laredo Sun Slope failure threatens 80 San Antonio homes Houston Chronicle BusinessWeek - The Canadian Press - San Francisco Chronicle, 

Read more news coverage

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