Embattled KB Home faced prior complaints in Texas
TAMPA - For months, local residents have criticized KB Home for leaving them living in homes with leaks, mold and shoddy construction. It's a relatively new saga for the national homebuilder in communities surrounding Tampa, but it's a controversy the California-based company has faced before. Residents in San Antonio, Texas, spent a decade fighting KB over construction complaints before winning their battles. Documents obtained by News Channel 8 show KB bought back homes in two neighborhoods in the mid-2000s and agreed to a $20 million settlement in 2011 with the San Antonio Housing Authority to settle claims of shoddy construction. Complaints about KB surfaced locally months ago when homeowners at Willowbrook in Bradenton spoke out about mold, leaks and collapsing balconies. More than 30 units have been deemed unsafe by county inspectors. Residents say KB has done only band-aid repairs that don't correct the problems.A contractor, Michael Hamilton, also said he stripped one Willowbrook condominium down to the studs and found serious construction flaws and code violations. Similar allegations were voiced in a 2007 whistleblower lawsuit, which claimed the company concealed building defects and instructed sales agents to move forward with home closings anyway. So far, people living in 11 neighborhoods across four Florida counties have complained about shoddy construction. They say houses are cracking and KB either fails to fix the problems or says their warranties don't cover them. In Texas, homeowners in the Northampton and Tara West subdivisions in the early 2000s complained of leaks, cracks and soggy soil that damaged foundations. Residents demanded their homes be bought back, but KB refused. The protests, sometimes at the steps of the state capitol, gained the attention of elected officials, and even San Antonio's mayor called on KB to buy back houses. Residents contacted by News Channel 8 say hundreds of homes were repurchased by KB. Residents who agreed to the buyout say they had to sign settlements that prohibit them from sharing details with the media. Buybacks would be sweet relief for many Willowbrook residents, who for months have insisted KB buy back their condos. The residents and some contractors say it would be more expensive to fix the units than to demolish and rebuild them. Residents say they are tired of the company's inadequate repairs, and the homebuilder isn't saying why it won't buy back the homes. Instead, it issued this statement: "KB remains committed to making the repairs to the homes in Willowbrook, which we believe is in the best interest of all of our homeowners and the community." KB hired a former employee, Gerald Wade, to walk the neighborhood and persuade homeowners to work with the builder and allow the repairs. "He can mind his own business," said homeowner Kelly Hayes. "I'm done with this." It wasn't until last year that KB, along with a Texas developer, agreed to the $20 million settlement with homeowners and the San Antonio Housing Authority. The two companies had partnered with the authority to build Mirasol Homes. Some of the homes were sold to individuals with low incomes, while others were owned by the authority to rent to public housing residents. Shortly after residents moved in, they complained of water intrusion, mold, and windows and doors that weren't fitted properly. After years of fighting, the authority hired experts to tear two houses down to the studs. As was the case in Willowbrook, the Texas contractor found problems. The authority filed a lawsuit in 2009, claiming "major structural flaws in the foundations, roofs and frames that exposed the houses to water damage." Those reports were a turning point in the case, an authority spokeswoman said. The settlement money was divided, with about $12 million going to the authority and $8 million spread out among residents, depending on the level of damage in their homes. Many of the residents received $60,000 to $90,000, enough to repair homes or pay off mortgages.
[email protected] Twitter: @shannonbehnken