WJTV News Channel 12 - Fla. homeowners with building defects have protection

Fla. homeowners with building defects have protection

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When Jeff Miller bought his home in Jully 2013, his home inspector noticed a few small stucco cracks. Miller called the builder, Taylor Morrison, to ask if the home had a warranty. When Jeff Miller bought his home in Jully 2013, his home inspector noticed a few small stucco cracks. Miller called the builder, Taylor Morrison, to ask if the home had a warranty.
Jeff Miller talks to Shannon Behnken about his Mira Bay home.  It has cracks in the stucco. Jeff Miller talks to Shannon Behnken about his Mira Bay home. It has cracks in the stucco.
Miller says Taylor Morrison assured him if the stucco cracks became serious, he would be covered. Miller says Taylor Morrison assured him if the stucco cracks became serious, he would be covered.
Miller removed a piece of stucco to make sure wood wasn’t damaged. Miller said he discovered mold and leaks. Miller removed a piece of stucco to make sure wood wasn’t damaged. Miller said he discovered mold and leaks.
APOLLO BEACH, FL (WFLA) -

If you buy a house that comes with a home warranty, how much protection do you really have? What if the builder denies your claim, and what if you aren't the first homeowner?

Jeff Miller bought his dream home in Apollo Beach's upscale Mira Bay neighborhood in July, but now he's discovered severe damage to the stucco. He noticed cracks, and then removed a section of stucco to check underneath. That revealed mold and rotten wood.

"It's a little unnerving when the wind really starts to blow, and you just hold your breath and pray that the house still stands," Miller said.

His builder, Arizona-based Taylor Morrison, says his warranty doesn't apply because the damage is due to the previous homeowner's failure to maintain the home.

Taylor Morrison sent this statement about Miller's home:

"It is unknown how long this home sat unoccupied, but it is clear from our inspections that general maintenance required of every home was neglected for an extended period of time. The home has never been re-painted and normal stucco cracks were left unattended. Without proper maintenance, even a hairline crack could continue to expand."

READ: Full statement from Taylor Morrison here

The house was built in 2006, and Miller and his wife bought it as a bank-owned foreclosure this past July. At the time, his home inspector noticed a few small stucco cracks, so Miller says he called the builder to ask if the home had a warranty. Miller was told there is a 10-year structural warranty that's good through 2016. He says he bought the home after Taylor Morrison assured him that if the stucco cracks became something serious, he would be covered.

"When we were told by Taylor Morrison that we did indeed have a 10-year structural warranty and that being a subsequent homeowner, it made no difference, then we felt confident to move forward."

But now, home inspector Mark Cramer, an expert in stucco problems, says all of the stucco on the second floor needs to be removed and replaced. The wood beneath the stucco outside of Cramer's 7-year-old daughter's room is rotten and moldy. The Millers won't let their daughter sleep in her bedroom.

"I'm not going to take a chance with my 7-year-old and her safety," Jeff Miller said.

Taylor Morrison's warranty does transfer to new homeowners, and it applies to structural damage. Miller says the builder told him the warranty doesn't apply because the damage is due to a failure to caulk cracks and paint.

Crammer called that explanation, "completely ludicrous." Crammer's inspection report says he found numerous building code violations, and that's what caused this mess.

"One, the stucco is too thin. two, the paper back lap is lapped incorrectly, creating thin areas which are prone to cracking, which is occurring," Crammer said. "The intersection of stucco and other dissimilar materials such as windows lacks caulked joints to prevent water entry."

Jeffrey Lieser, a construction lawyer not involved in this case, says homeowners have protection worth far more than a warranty. Under Florida law, home buyers have up to 10 years to bring construction defect claims. So in cases where construction defects are found, he said, it doesn't matter whether the homeowner has a warranty from their builder. A builder is still responsible for defects, he said.

Lieser says homeowners who live in homes close to 10 years old should hire an inspector to check for defects before that 10-year-window to file a claim runs out.

"Even if you don't think you have an issue, and the home appears to be fine, and there does not appear to be any issues with the home whatsoever and no particular problems, it's still worth having a home inspector come out and do a once-over on your home."

The bottom line, Lieser says, is that builders are responsible for defects, but often it takes a lawsuit to prove there's a defect that the builder must fix.

That's something Miller is hoping to avoid.

"We think we can go down that road and roll the dice," Miller said. "I would rather them just do the right thing and fix our home and make us whole."

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