D.R. Horton denies bad condo allegations
Anne Schindler

JACKSONVILLE, Fla.—Testimony continued today in a $9 million construction defect case against America’s largest homebuilder.

D.R. Horton is accused of building structurally deficient condominiums at the Heron’s Landing development on Beach Boulevard. The company has denied the allegations.

Two residents testified Tuesday, along with a structural engineer who inspected the property. All attested to issues with stucco, windows, roof leaks and other problems. The cost to each of the 240 units, they testified, would be $43,000. Both homeowners said said they could not afford the price tag.

Heron’s Landing resident George Svadaba is both an owner and a member of the condo association board. He bought his condo in January 2007, new, and said he expected it to be a low-maintenance place to retire.

“I would not expect buying a new property for $185,000 that I would be in this mess today,” Svadaba told the jury.

Svadaba also expressed disappointment in D.R. Horton for fighting the case into the courtroom. “They’re ‘America's Builder,” he said citing the company’s motto. “You would think it would be in their own best interest to go ahead and resolve this and make things right with the homeowners that in good faith bought from them. All they want is to get what they paid for.”

Plaintiffs allege the condos need new windows and sliding glass doors installed, a new roof and all new stucco. Plaintiffs are asking to cover the cost of those repairs and the association’s legal fees. Circuit Court Judge Jim Daniels previously ruled there would be no punitive damages at this trial.

Condo owner Christine Bentley also testified. She and her husband bought a condo in early 2009 for about $150,000. She joined the condo association board in 2013 after becoming concerned about conditions at the condo complex. She noted that residents aren’t looking to profit from the lawsuit, just to fix the problems.

“I would like to see them built to code,” she told the jury. “I want the property to look the way it should. I want to be able to sell my unit without telling someone there’s building defects. I would like to be able to rent my property without a renter calling in with a number of problems that I will have to pay to fix.”

Plaintiffs are seeking in excess of $9 million. D.R. Horton posted revenues of $10.7 billion in 2015. The company has declined requests for comment.

The case is expected to last four weeks.


Lawsuit blames D.R. Horton for condo defects
First Coast News
Anne Schindler, WTLV

JACKSONVILLE - Jury selection began Monday in a construction defect case that pits hundreds of local condo owners against the nation’s largest homebuilder.

The lawsuit alleges that D.R. Horton violated Florida Building Code when it built the 240-unit Heron’s Landing complex on Beach Boulevard. The lawsuit, filed in 2013, specifically cites widespread construction defects, including cracked stucco, leaking roofs and improperly installed balconies. A handful of subcontractors are also named as defendants.

The case is unusual because construction defect claims are typically handled in secret. Virtually every modern sales contract prohibits home or condo owners from suing in open court, and instead forces them into a closed process called arbitration. But this case was filed not by individual condo owners, but by the Heron's Landing Condominium Association – a body not bound by individual sale contracts.

First Coast News reached out to D.R. Horton’s local office and its corporate headquarters in Texas for comment, but have not heard back yet.

Because there are multiple defendants in the case, the Duval County Clerk of Court summoned an extra large jury pool—150 potential jurors to fill six seats, with four alternates. A jury is expected to be seated tomorrow.


DR Horton negligent in Jax condo case, jury awards $9.6 million
JACKSONVILLE, Fla.—After four years of litigation and an epic 38-day trial, a jury found America’s largest homebuilder was negligent when it built the Jacksonville community of Heron's Landing.

The verdict requires DR Horton to pay $9.6 million to remove and replace the stucco, roofs and windows on the entire 240-unit development.

Condo residents and experts testified that the Beach Boulevard structures violate Florida building code, and are riddled with defects, including cracked stucco, leaking roofs, and failing windows and sliding glass doors.

nearly $38,000 per condo

Attorneys say the damage amounts to $9 million, or nearly $38,000 per condo.

Before discharging the six member jury, Circuit Judge James Daniel said words could not convey his gratitude for their lengthy service and careful attention. He said a personal goodbye to each juror as they left, shaking their hands, and it was clear jurors were moved. One juror said she was “a hugger,” before embracing the judge tearfully. “It’s emotional,” she admitted.

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."

Resident Paul Vetter said he hoped the verdict encouraged others to pursue construction defect cases. "If you have an issue with the builder, go for it! We stuck, in there three years [almost four], and there were times when it was really tough, and we had to dig deep in our pockets. Now, it's a message that it can be done."

DR Horton, the nation’s largest home builder, had denied the claim. Its attorneys say the condos are “fine” and that any defects are isolated or insignificant. The company has also said that the condo owner association failed to properly maintain the buildings, contributing to their condition.

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.

compared it to a “cancer.”

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.”

“The more we discovered the more there was,” Sampson told the jury. “It just kept growing and growing.”

DR Horton Executive VP and Chief Operating Officer John Zakoske defended the company’s construction practices. “It makes more sense for us to give you a good product have you refer your friends and family, your coworkers to us.” he told the jury.

“We can sell them a home or sell you your next home. It’s just good business We really don’t do that much advertising so we rely on word of mouth and our reputation in the community to sell houses and stay in business."

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.

Circuit Judge James Daniel told jurors Tuesday that they had to determine three things: if the buildings violate state building code, whether the plaintiffs were “damaged” by that, and if DR Horton knew or should have known about the violations.

More than a dozen condo owners and two dozen supporters of DR Horton attended Tuesday’s closing arguments. 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.

Despite the length of the 36 day trial, the six jurors and three alternates remained attentive and seemingly good natured. Jurors are paid $30 a day for their services, but they do not receive that money until after the conclusion of the trial.

Heron’s Landing attorney Barry Ansbacher presented his closing arguments Tuesday morning, telling jurors that DR Horton chose “speed and greed” over quality construction.

“Just do it right,” he said, evoking their motto, “America’s largest homebuilder.” He asked the jury to award $9 million to repair the buildings.

DR Horton attorney Robert Carlson began his closing arguments after lunch.

"We aren't going to demonize the home owners," he said. "We like the homeowners. In fact, we would like them to buy another home from DR Horton and think at the end of this trial they might because they are performing fine."

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