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Special Report Part 5 - Protecting New Homebuyers from Defects
Monday, 28 September 2015

"Outrageous": Lawmaker says secrecy hurts homebuyers
Some 122 homeowners living in Taylor Morrison homes in Bartram Springs have filed allegations in court complaining of widespread stucco failures, water intrusion, wood rot – even structural infirmities that could potentially destroy a home... McBurney told First Coast News he was concerned about the financial and emotional burdens placed on his constituents. But he noted it's also an issue of safety – particularly at one house where a structural assessment found the roof could peel off in a strong thunderstorm... Outcomes of arbitration proceedings are not disclosed, nor are the sheer number of complaints pending against home builders. The only reason the Taylor Morrison complaints are public knowledge is because the attorney representing homeowners also filed suit in civil court -- complaints that were ultimately redirected by a judge to secret arbitration...

"Outrageous": Lawmaker says secrecy hurts homebuyers


Anne Schindler, First Coast News

"I think what they're going through is pretty outrageous," says State Rep. Charles McBurney about the residents of Bartram Springs -- a community on the edge of the Duval/St. Johns county line, and at the center of the First Coast News investigation into construction defects.

Our investigation has gotten a lot of reaction from homeowners. But lawmakers are paying attention, too.

"I think what they're going through is pretty outrageous," says State Rep. Charles McBurney about the residents of Bartram Springs -- a community on the edge of the Duval/St. Johns county line, and at the center of the First Coast News investigation into construction defects.

             
           "We ought to to give consumers notice so they can make reasoned
            judgments," says McBurney.
(Photo: Schindler, Anne)

A seven-year veteran of the Florida House, McBurney's district includes Bartram Springs. And while he was previously unfamiliar with the scope of the community's problems, he took special interest in the series.

"This is their home!" he says. "This is their home. It's not just money, this is the place where you want to feel safe, and protected physically."

McBurney told First Coast News he was concerned about the financial and emotional burdens placed on his constituents. But he noted it's also an issue of safety – particularly at one house where a structural assessment found the roof could peel off in a strong thunderstorm.

"A 60-mile-an-hour sustained wind," says Bartram homeowner Carol Ecos, whose home lacks the hurricane rods it was designed to have. "That's what I was told it would take to blow my house over."

"At a minimum they should know that their place is safe," McBurney avers. "Not just that it's built correctly, but that it's safe, and it's safe to others."

But such information is almost impossible to obtain.

For the most part, all new home construction defects are secrets – even widespread ones that affect entire communities – because they are shielded from public scrutiny. Virtually every new home contract requires that disputes between builders and homeowners go to arbitration, not court, meaning none of what transpires is public record.

Outcomes of arbitration proceedings are not disclosed, nor are the sheer number of complaints pending against home builders. The only reason the Taylor Morrison complaints are public knowledge is because the attorney representing homeowners also filed suit in civil court -- complaints that were ultimately redirected by a judge to secret arbitration, as the contract required. (Taylor Morrison has declined our request to comment for this series. You can read their statement here.)

McBurney believes secrecy hurts consumers' right to know and their ability to research a builder's track record before signing a contract. He wants to find a way for that information to be made public.

"I could see a role for the Legislature for continuing to provide information out there that is accessible to consumers when they are trying to make a reasoned decision," he says, adding rhetorically, "'Is this somebody I want to do business with for probably my most significant investment of my entire life?'"

On June 1, Florida lawmakers head back into special session, one that will largely be devoted to budget and unfinished business from the regular session. But McBurney promises he will explore creating a mechanism for disclosing claims against builders and making that information available to buyers.

"It's something we definitely ought to look at as a legislative body to see what we can do to provide more disclosure, more information to consumers," he says. "I think that's something to always look at -- but particularly (if) you have a situation like you have over at Bartram Springs."

http://www.firstcoastnews.com/story/news/local/consumer/on-your-side/2015/05/26/mcburney-speaks-on-bartram-springs/27977705/

 
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