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Bill Puts Homeowners' Rights at Stake

AB 2112 would strip residents of their ability to sue builders for shoddy construction that threatens health.

August 13, 2000|KELLY HAYES-RAITT | Kelly Hayes-Raitt is a consumer advocate with the HomeSafe Campaign, a Santa Monica based coalition. Its Web site is Phone: (310) 581-4421

When I visited Edson Ocampo's condo in Santa Ana, I was required to wear a respirator--sort of a rubber aviator's mask--over my nose and mouth. A microbiologist who toured the home with us said the airborne mold in this 13-year-old's home is too toxic to breathe unfiltered. Edson and his diapered 10-month-old cousin escorted us through their home, pointing out large patches of the tenacious mold. We are looking to relocate this and other families in the complex to safer housing.

Toxic mold is a direct result of shoddy construction. It's easily preventable, assuming a builder follows health and safety codes and doesn't cut corners when building new homes. The condo we visited was built so poorly, pervasive leaking problems keep moisture behind the walls. Mold is evident in nearly every one of the 200 condominiums' bathrooms, bedrooms or kitchens.

When repeated calls and letters to the homebuilder went unanswered, frustrated homeowners finally called a lawyer. A lawsuit against the builder was filed last month--only after the builder was served with a detailed list of problems and given five months for repairs, as required by law.

There is hope for Edson and his family. Filing a lawsuit against a homebuilder for construction defects is a highly regulated and difficult process; almost all cases are settled quickly out of court through court-ordered mediation. Since builders control nearly every aspect of the litigation, they usually repair homes quickly once they can no longer stall. If the builder cooperates with the court, Edson and his family might be living in a safe home by Christmas 2001.

However, this month, Sacramento lawmakers will be considering legislation--AB 2112--to restrict homeowners' legal rights. Sponsored by the California Building Industry Assn., AB 2112 intends to establish a 10-year warranty on new construction, while requiring homeowners to give up their only means of getting recalcitrant homebuilders' attention: a lawsuit.

Many homeowners already have warranties similar to those promised by AB 2112, and they didn't have to give up any legal rights to get them. Homeowners say some warranties don't mean anything. They say they're just another opportunity for builders to "patch and paint" rather than to permanently repair homes to meet proper health and safety standards.

The bill is being referred to a conference committee. But I'm still worried. The Building Industry Assn. has an agenda to permanently strip homeowners' legal rights. If they don't win this year, they'll try again in January, about the time many homeowners around the state will be experiencing the same old leaks from winter's rains and the same old runaround excuses from corner-cutting homebuilders.

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