LAKEWOOD RANCH — At first glance, the community of Willowbrook looks beautiful and serene.
But as one drives through the neighborhood, yellow signs stating “Warning! Danger,” offer evidence of the battle at hand.
More than 50 households in Willowbrook say KB Home did not construct their homes correctly, resulting in severe water intrusion, among other issues. A group of homeowners now has launched a campaign to get KB Home to buy back their properties.
“All of our homes are (deteriorating) from the outside in,” said Otto Delph, who has lived in Willowbrook for three years. “There’s water in the drywall.”
Manatee County building officials last week deemed the balconies on more than 20 homes dangerous, but residents say the problem manifesting in the balconies is structural in nature. Fixing the only the balconies, they say, is a Band-Aid repair, and does not change the fact the walls are saturated with water and growing mold.
Many of the balconies have already been replaced; in many cases, more than once.
A spokesperson from KB Home, however, said the company is working on correcting problems raised by homeowners.
Workers were on-site Thursday, Aug. 9, following a community-wide meeting with Sen. Mike Bennett about the problem.
“KB Home is actively working in the Willowbrook community and has begun to make repairs,” KB Home spokeswoman Cara Kane said. “KB Home stands behind its product and, in partnership with the (Willowbrook Condo) Association, will continue to take the appropriate steps to fully and fairly resolve the homeowners’ concerns.”
But not all residents are satisfied.
“I don’t trust KB Home to come fix my home,” said Amanda Dillon, who has lived in Willowbrook for two years and refused to let workers into her house last week. “I don’t want them to fix it. Our buildings were built sub-code. I want my house bought back out. They’re not coming in my home. I don’t want it fixed. I want it bought back. I don’t want the stress of this anymore.”
A turnover study report completed by Karins Engineering Group on behalf of The Continental Group, property manager for the Willowbrook Condominium Association, is dated Nov. 21, 2011.
The report lists eight items that “may be plan and code compliance concerns,” including the fire system, stucco and decorative bands, exterior wall coatings and sealants, drainage, electrical, mechanical, concrete and door fasteners, vents and fasteners.
Items of workmanship or maintenance noted were: screen enclosures, paver and tile runoff, rusted garage vents and fasteners, rust stains on walls, wall stains and tile defects at balconies.
At the time, construction repairs were in progress at nine units, although no permits were seen.
Specific recommendations in the report included:
• Installing the specified enclosures, replacing all ferrous pipe and fixtures and also securely installing weatherproof electrical junction boxes.
• Properly installing stucco, flashings, expansion joints, corner beads (accessories) and sealants, as cracking in stucco and de-lamination “is allowing moisture into the buildings and has a potential for compromising the structural integrity as well as causing damage to the unit interiors.”
• Waterproofing the building envelop by waterproofing, applying sealants and painting to seal the building envelope.
• Re-grading, extending noncompliant downspout discharges and adding splash blocks or diverters to direct the water away from the structure to properly drain water away from the buildings and minimize damage to the foundations.
• Correcting deviations and code violations and workmanship and maintenance issues.
Aug. 4: A caravan of vehicles from Willowbrook Saturday, Aug. 4, headed to the U.S. Post Office to mail letters to more than 40 individuals, including the president of the United States, KB Home’s board of directors, the Better Business Bureau, local and state officials and more. If the sheer number of vehicles didn’t get anyone’s attention, drivers hoped the message they’d painted on each vehicle’s back window — “See our nightmare at www.thekbhome.com” — did. The letters, which were sent certified mail, shared concerns about the construction of Willowbrook homes, as well as homeowners’ requests for KB to buy their homes back.
Aug. 11: Residents stood peaceable, protest signs in hand, Saturday, Aug. 11, outside KB Home’s Sterling Lake community in Bradenton. Signs read “Multiple Fixes, Multiple Fails,” “We Live In Fear,” and “Before You Buy … visit thekbhome.com” and “Don’t Make the Same Mistake We Did.”
In response to the community’s concerns, Sen. Mike Bennett met with residents of Willowbrook Wednesday, Aug. 8.
There, residents shared their concerns about the deterioration of their homes, and asked the senator for insight on how to move forward.
Bennett said he was committed to making sure KB made the necessary repairs.
“We will hold their feet to the fire,” Bennett told residents. “I really wanted you to know we’re interested in helping you get back into your houses and safe.”
Bennett also told Willowbrook residents they should band together to make sure their cause is upheld.
“You’ve got to speak as one voice,” he said. “You can’t let anyone cut your deal for you.”
Workers representing KB were on-site Thursday, Aug. 9, as Bennett had promised residents at the meeting.
Since last week’s meeting, Bennett also has contacted state officials to investigate how to get sanctions against KB and how to “go after” the builder’s risk policy.
Manatee County Commissioner Donna Hayes also attended the Aug. 8 meeting.
FACES OF WILLOWBROOK
Daniel and Ashley Koehler stopped going out on their upstairs and main-level balconies a year and a half ago.
“It was giving underneath,” Daniel Koehler said.
When they returned from vacation recently, they found a section of their third-floor balcony had given way. Manatee County building officials, Aug. 8, deemed the balcony, as well as the main-level balcony, unsafe.
Daniel Koehler held a moisture reader against his wall near his balcony. It read 100%.
He and Ashley have discovered black mold under their carpet, and on the cinderblock in their basement. Their 1-year-old son, Bryson, has had bronchitis and two sinus infections in the last two months. They think his illness is related to the mold.
“It’s too coincidental,” Daniel Koehler said.
Now, the couple just wants out of their home to protect their child and to put an end to the longstanding issues that have plagued their home.
As Roxanne Miller describes it, the situation with her home has led to one nightmare after another.
She said her home is poorly constructed and KB has refused to make some repairs. Miller has lost more than $700,000, from paying cash for the home, attorney and inspection fees, moving expenses and loss of work, she said.
Soft spots in her flooring were never fixed, sending one worker’s foot through the floor. An improperly installed door fell on her foot, damaging nerves and causing long-term damage. Mold resulting from water intrusion sent her to the hospital.
“My floor still has issues,” she said. “It can’t even hold the laminated flooring.”
Documents show KB opted to arbitrate Miller’s concerns rather than comple more repairs. Although the arbitrator found work had not been completed in compliance with the home’s specifications, nothing has changed, Miller said.
Now, she is out of money. Out of patience. Out of options, she said.
As soon as you step into Armando Oyola-Delgado’s home, you can smell the mold. The scent gets stronger with each set of stairs you climb.
Oyola-Delgado said he spends very little time at home anymore — just enough, in fact, to shower and sleep. He avoids going upstairs, where the mold is worse, and instead sleeps on his couch in the living room.
A white tarp with a zipper down the middle blocks him from the view of his balcony, which subcontractors for KB Home left unfinished more than a year ago.
The balcony, he said, had already been replaced four times — after each rainy season, in which he saw a “waterfall” in his house. The last time repairs were to be made, Oyola-Delgado started seeing waterlogged wood, mold and other causes for concern. He stopped the work immediately when workers brushed off the issues as “normal” for homes in Florida.
“I’ve lived in a construction zone since I moved in,” he said. “I go out instead of coming home. I find something to do. It’s horrible.”