Special Report Part 3 - No City Inspection - Taylor Morrison Hired its Own Inspector
Monday, 28 September 2015
New Home Nightmares: Part 3 - "We don't know who built this house"
In fact, city inspectors didn't even conduct the inspections that Goldsbury codified when he signed the home's certificate of occupancy. Taylor Morrison hired its own private inspectors for the roughly 400 homes it built in Bartram Springs, as state law allows. Trying to figure out who is responsible for the home's many flaws is complicated by the fact that the building permit is signed by somebody who never set foot there and didn't even work for Taylor Morrison at the time.
New Home Nightmares: Part 3 - "We don't know who built this house"
Anne Schindler, First Coast News
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It's clear from the outside that something is very wrong with Carol Ecos' house. Black lines outline cracked stucco, plastic sheeting encases window frames.
It's clear from the outside that something is very wrong with Carol Ecos' house. Black lines outline cracked stucco, plastic sheeting encases window frames.
Inside, it's not much better. The smell of mold is strong enough that Ecos' dog sitter wears a mask when he visits. The roof is so poorly attached, an engineering report found it could rip off in as little as a 67 mile per hour wind. Ecos' insurance company even refused to insure her house in a hurricane.
So how does a home like this pass inspection?
We asked Tom Goldsbury, chief of the city's Building Inspection Division. He signed the home's certificate of occupancy, which signifies a house has passed all inspections and is safe to occupy. But he says the seven inspections the house underwent are no guarantee of quality. "[Inspectors] are not performing quality control," he says.
"They are doing a snapshot in time: As of that day, on that 5 minutes, half hour, one hour time they're at that site, whatever they see and whatever they're there to inspect is up to code."
In fact, city inspectors didn't even conduct the inspections that Goldsbury codified when he signed the home's certificate of occupancy. Taylor Morrison hired its own private inspectors for the roughly 400 homes it built in Bartram Springs, as state law allows.
Trying to figure out who is responsible for the home's many flaws is complicated by the fact that the building permit is signed by somebody who never set foot there and didn't even work for Taylor Morrison at the time. By law, permits are to be pulled by a licensed contractor or qualifying agent, and that contractor is to "direct supervise manage and control" construction. At the Ecos house, the permit was signed by Marie Lisa Steiner on April 30, 2004 -- four months after she quit her job at Taylor Morrison.
"We don't know who pulled the permit," says Kevin Schoeppel, who represents Ecos and 122 other Bartram Springs homeowners. "We don't know who built this house."
Schoeppel calls the signature a "fraud," an assertion he made in court. But a March hearing before the First District Court of Appeal, Taylor Morrison's lawyer Kristin Norse disputed that characterization.
"If look at the quote from trial court judgment, it was not that we 'fraudulently obtained' the permit, it was that we obtained it without Miss. Steiner's position [sic]. I'm not going to dispute that."
Judge James Wolfe pressed her, asking if they had obtained the permit "without her knowledge or permission?"
"Right," Norse conceded, "without her knowledge or permission."
Company attorneys argued that the fact that Steiner didn't actually supervise construction wasn't relevant. They cited a separate state statute that requires a homebuilder to have a licensed contractor or qualifying agent on the day a contract is signed. And on the day the Ecos' contract was inked, Taylor Morrison did have a qualifying agent not Steiner, but a company executive named Doug Guy.
An expert representing the homebuilder also argued in court that it wasn't necessary for a licensed contractor to actually supervise construction, but could reasonably oversee a project while living in Jamaica, serving in Afghanistan -- even if they were blind.
Attorneys further argued what's known as a "developer's exception" which essentially says that it is not necessary to be a licensed contractor to build a home. Typically, this exception is used by individual landowners building on a single lot. But the company has asserted this rule, essentially for all the land it owns in the state, arguing it does not need to be licensed to build.
Judge James Wolf at the 1st DCA seemed skeptical of the company's arguments, telling attorney Norse, "you don't have a very sympathetic client here." Judge Robert Benton labeled the circumstances surrounding Ecos home "a farce."
Farce or no, it may not be unique. Seiner's signature appeared on at least 12 other permits for homes in Bartram Springs sometimes moths after she quit her job at Taylor Morrison.
"It's a crime to submit a document that's not authentic or to a city agency," says Schoeppel. He brought the fraud allegation to the state attorney, but says he was told the 4-year statute of limitations on fraud had expired. He also filed a complaint with the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which regulates construction licensing. But the agency's Construction Industry Licensing Board can only act against a license holder in this case Steiner not the builder that used the permits. The agency chose, without explanation, not to discipline Steiner.
Taylor Morrison released a statement yesterday, acknowledging stucco problems at Bartram Springs, but did not answer questions First Coast News submitted more than a month ago about Steiner and the building permit issue.
What follows is a statement issued from Taylor Morrison regarding the investigation by First Coast News:
"Taylor Morrison is committed to quality work and customer satisfaction. As a standard practice, we ensure homeowners are contacted within 24-48 hours of a customer service request, followed by an appointment with a trade partner to examine the reported issue.
"Service repairs are then completed within a week to 45 days, based on the complexity of the issue. We proactively offered to remedy any stucco issues in the Bartram Springs community that fell below building standards immediately after they were brought to our attention.
"However, certain homeowners who were guided by their legal counsel decided to pursue monetary damages rather than accept the company's offer to repair their homes. Despite multiple attempts to repair these homes, Taylor Morrison was denied the ability to do so. Furthermore, Taylor Morrison continues to offer to undertake the necessary repairs of the homes currently in arbitration as we have done with other homeowners who chose not to pursue monetary damages.
"The stucco issues in some of the Bartram Springs homes are not a reflection of the normal standards and quality of Taylor Morrison's homes. The company has a solid history of going above and beyond industry standards to address homeowner concerns, and our outstanding customer satisfaction rate is one of the highest in the industry and a testament to our commitment to superior service.
"Our ongoing desire is to remedy these issues for our valued homeowners in the Bartram Springs community and we'll continue to take necessary steps to do so."