The state Department of Real Estate is asking a major Ventura County developer to stop selling houses and condominiums until state officials review the company's contract that prevents buyers from inspecting for radon before the close of escrow, the department commissioner said Tuesday.
Commissioner James Edmonds said the department made the oral request to Pardee Construction Co. officials Tuesday after real estate attorneys discovered that the state did not have a record of the contract in the company's public document report, as required by law.
As a result, Pardee, which is building houses throughout Southern California, must supply the contract and apply to have it included in the report, Edmonds said.
He said Department of Real Estate attorneys will then review the application and decide whether the radon contract--which also asks customers not to hold the company responsible if the cancer-causing gas is found after the sale is completed--is legitimate and should be included in the file.
Pardee officials did not return phone calls for comment Tuesday afternoon.
Edmonds said the department has no legal authority to require Pardee--which has 1,000 houses and condominiums for sale in Ventura County--to stop selling its property but hopes the company will do so.
"We have verbally asked them to cease sales until we get an amended document report," Edmonds said. "We want them to disclose what they are doing."
He said the request is for the protection of house buyers and the Department of Real Estate, which was not aware of the company's radon disclaimers until contacted by The Times last week.
He said if Pardee fails to meet the department's request, he will ask the state attorney general's office to investigate. Meanwhile, Senior Assistant Atty. Gen. Herschel Elkins said attorneys are seeking more information on the matter but have not started a formal investigation. According to some real estate lawyers, radon disclaimers could open a new area of real estate law.
A Pardee official told The Times last week that the company has been asking buyers to sign the contracts as an added protection after learning that an East Coast developer had been sued by a customer who discovered radon, believed to be the second largest cause of lung cancer in the nation, in his house.
"We may be a little extra cautious," said Bernie Yantz, Pardee's assistant vice president of California sales. "It's an extra step we're taking to protect ourselves."
He said if customers refuse to sign the agreement, Pardee will not sell to them.
Pardee's Ventura County developments that require customers to sign the contracts include the Capri and Monico subdivisions on Lindero Canyon Road in Oak Park, and the Montelena and Fairfield subdivisions in Camarillo, near Santa Rosa Road.
Lawyers with the Department of Real Estate, the attorney general's office and the California Assn. of Realtors all questioned the validity of the contracts.
"This is a potential problem," Elkins said. "It's one we'll have to examine."
The first statewide residential radon study, released last week, says that levels of the cancer-causing gas in Ventura County were the highest in the state, although lower than many East Coast communities.
State researchers monitored 385 houses in California, including 15 in Ventura County.
Statewide, only 1% of all houses surveyed exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's recommended maximum radon concentration of 4 picocuries per liter.
But in Ventura County, it is estimated that between 10% and 15% of the houses could exceed that level. That estimate is based on sampling 15 houses over a 12-month period.
Using standard statistical techniques, researchers say they are able to extrapolate the results from relatively small samples and apply them to larger numbers with a fair degree of accuracy.
A more extensive yearlong survey of 1,000 houses in the Ventura region is scheduled to be completed by the state in June.