By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
On the heels of yesterday’s blog, Condos: Affordability or quality construction. You can’t have both comes a report of a Landmark construction defect lawsuit in Jacsksonville, Florida.
DR Horton negligent in Jax condo case, jury awards $9.6 million (First Coast News Video and transcript)
Heron’s Landing property manager Karen Floyd celebrated the verdict. “There are so many developer/builders that build these complexes, walk away from it, and don’t look back,” she told First Coast News. “And they’re not ever held accountable. I think this is a landmark case where the builder/developer has been held accountable now.”
The case has featured thousands of exhibits and dozens of witnesses, including some prominent residents. Fifth District State Attorney Brad King testified that a condo he bought for his college aged children in lieu of a rental had extensive leaks, plumbing failures and stucco problems.
Magistrate John Sampson, who typically presides over Duval County Drug Court, also serves as President of the Heron’s Landing Condo Association Board. He testified the problems were extensive – and compared it to a “cancer.”
DR Horton attorneys did not comment following the case, but both the condo owners and their lawyers anticipate the company will appeal. Regardless, plaintiffs’ attorneys will face DR Horton again soon. They have a similar claim against the company from an almost identical Jacksonville development, called Windsor Falls.
The case is an extremely rare airing of structural defect claims. Virtually all new home contracts require that defect clams be handled in secret arbitration proceedings. In this case, the Condo Association rather than the individual homeowners sued, contending isn’t bound by contracts signed by homeowners.
What makes this case so unusual is the fact that the condo association sued DR Horton and, in this case, actually got a jury trial in lieu of a secret arbitration. Arbitrations are almost universal in new construction home sale contracts. That’s because builder and construction lobbies have used their influence to pass laws in states across the U.S. – allowing Developers to deprive home and condo owners of their full due process rights.
In most cases, homebuyers are not given the option to opt out of mandatory arbitration proceedings for matters involving construction defect claims.
First Coast News reports that, because the condo association sued the developer, they were able to get around the legal requirement for arbitration, which only applies to individual homeowners.
It’s also very intriguing that this case involved so many “high profile” witnesses, including Fifth District State Attorney Brad King, as well as Magistrate John Sampson of Duval County Drug Court, who just so happens to serve as the condo board president at Heron’s Landing.
The Heron’s Landing – D.R. Horton trial was presided by Circuit Judge Jim Daniel, and lasted 38 days. Legal complaints were first filed in 2013. During that time, condo owners have been living with leaks and property damage caused by faulty stucco, poorly installed windows and doors, and a leaky roof, among many other complaints of poor workmanship.
It remains to be seen whether or not $38,000 per condo is sufficient to completely replace exterior walls, windows. Heron’s Landing has 240 units.
Condo owners have testified that property values of their units have been considerably reduced as a result of numerous defects and prolonged litigation. A quick Google search reveals recent condo sales of $100K or less, and many units renting between $1150-$14500 per month.