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ABC Special Report
Investigation: New Home Heartbreak
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Texas Needs Home Lemon Law
Saturday, 04 June 2016

Limited help for Texans with defective homes
Homeowners concerned over unlicensed Texas builders. Taylor Morrison Homes built Gribble’s house. According to court documents, the nation-wide builder has a history of complaints involving defective homes outside Texas. "If we have a lemon law it’s just logical. If you build a bad house you will stand by it or you’ll have to buy it back, said Janet Ahmad, president of Homeowners for Better Building.

Limited help for Texans with defective homes

When Christian Gribble moved into her south Austin home in 2008, she fell in love with it.

“I just thought it was beautiful,” Gribble said.

Within days though, her kitchen sink started leaking.  About that same time, raw sewage started coming out of her bathtub and toilet.

“So, that was the first major thing that I was like, 'Uh oh!'” said Gribble.

When she spoke to the Defenders in October, Gribble pointed out poor tile installation and an unsafe railing installed on her balcony.

“It’s about 35 feet up there.  So, if someone were to fall you’re going to be seriously injured or probably die,” said Gribble.

It took seven months of calling, emailing and texting her builder to fix her patio.

Taylor Morrison Homes built Gribble’s house.  According to court documents, the nation-wide builder has a history of complaints involving defective homes outside Texas.

In Florida, 122 homeowners are in litigation with Taylor Morrison after they claim it built defective homes.  Many of the complaints involve poor stucco installation.

Gribble said she likely would not have purchased her home if she knew about the company’s history in Florida.

“Because this was a very expensive home.  I mean, very expensive for me anyway.  And, I spent enough money on it that it would have scared me,” said Gribble.

Taylor Morrison declined interviews for this story.  It hired a public relations firm to respond, which emailed, “Taylor Morrison takes great pride in providing a superior customer service experience for homeowners, and as such, we take all homeowners’ concerns seriously.  In the case of Ms. Gribble, we addressed all issues brought to our attention, including her balcony, which was reported more than seven years following the close of her home.”


New Home Nightmares: First Coast News Investigates

Consumer watchdog groups believe the deck is stacked against Texas homeowners who buy defective homes.  In many cases, homeowners are unable to sue their builder for repeated problems because contracts force the homeowner into arbitration.

Arbitration is a form of dispute resolution.  It’s private mediation, often not available to the public and handled by a third party arbitrator.  Arbitrators are not judges nor have to be attorneys in Texas.

“It’s more expensive than going to court and it’s more complicated for homeowners than going to court,” said Alex Winslow, executive director at Texas Watch.

For the past 24 years, Homeowners for Better Building has tried to convince Texas lawmakers to pass a home lemon law.  It's similar to the car lemon law already on the books, but for homes.

“If we have a lemon law it’s just logical.  If you build a bad house you will stand by it or you’ll have to buy it back,” said Janet Ahmad, president of Homeowners for Better Building.

The Texas Association of Builders says a lemon law could not realistically apply to homes.

“A car and home is a very different product.  First of all, a car is an inherently dangerous product.  Second of all, a car is built with automated machines where as a home is one of the very few products that is still built by hand, in the elements, over a long period of time,” said Ned Muñoz, an attorney for the association.

Muñoz also points out no other state has a home lemon law.  He contends adding such a law would be costly for consumers.

“It would really increase the price of a home because home builders would need to cover their exposure,” said Muñoz.

Ahmad argues home builders are given too many chances to fix the same problems.  A home lemon law would cap the number of repairs.  If the builder can’t fix the problem after a certain number of tries, the law would force the builder to buy it back.

No state agency keeps track of dispute resolutions between homeowners and builders, but if it did, Muñoz believes it would show most homeowners are satisfied.

“When you’re talking about economically throwing an industry on its head for a minuscule amount of people that want their home bought back, it just is not good for consumers as a whole,” said Muñoz.

Gribble, a contractor herself, thinks there should be a home lemon law.

“They are throwing houses up as fast as they can, and charging ridiculous amounts for them.  They need to be accountable for their work,” said Gribble.

According to campaign contributions, the construction industry has donated more than $16 million to Texas lawmakers since 1998.  Munoz said campaign contributions are a transparent process and his association has never put any conditions on its contributions.  Doing so is a felony.


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