Defective and costly Chinese drywall still in South Florida homes surprising homeowners

Chinese drywall regulation is limited

WEST PALM BEACH - With specialized tools, Howard Ehrsam of Chinese Drywall Screening goes on a treasure hunt.

"No doubt it has Chinese," Ehrsam said as he tested drywall.

Chinese drywall is still lurking behind walls…..

"It won't go away," said Ehrsam.

Experts say some homes were not fixed properly.

"I've seen more bad remediation than good," said Ehrsam.

Others were never fixed

"You have to gut a place to fix it," said Ehrsam.

The costly problem is sometimes left for an unsuspecting buyer like Reinna Albornoz.

"In order to fix it it's going to cost at least $160,000," explained Albornoz.

That's more than Albornoz paid for her home.

"We are going to have to eat the cost or walk away," said Albornoz.

She says the corrosive drywall is tarnishing her jewelry. She showed us a dark gray, almost black piece of jewelry that she says she just cleaned.

The defective drywall is also causing more serious electrical problems that are harder to fix.

"Lights started going out all the time," said Albornoz.

Albornoz realized her walls may be the root of her problem when neighbors told her the builder found Chinese drywall in 2009. Pulte Homes fixed the homes where they found it but described the problem as isolated. Was it?

One neighbor who supposedly didn't have it did her own tests and found it just like Albornoz.

Pulte said it looked at its contractor logs back then and the evidence on hand to pinpoint the suspected homes with the drywall. It said only two homeowners have come forward since then, and it's made settlement offers to both.

Albornoz declined the settlement offer because they didn't feel it would cover the remediation costs. Technically, the builder doesn't have to offer anything. They are only liable for warranty issues 10 years after construction. The townhome was built in 2001.

"I can see someone else ignorantly buying a house and having no knowledge of its history," said Albornoz.

It's happening often enough that Boca Raton real estate attorney Scott Weires said he's seeing a second wave of drywall claims.

"We have to be very diligent in finding out what the seller knew at the time they conveyed the property. If they had info about the Chinese drywall it needed to be disclosed," said Weires, partner with Murdoch, Weires & Newman.

But, Weires knows disclosure is not happening especially in foreclosed homes.

"Lenders have information and they are not disclosing that to buyers," explained Weires.

We asked if there should have been a database so people could check if their home was effected rather than not knowing.

"Shoulda, coulda, woulda. Hindsight is 20/20. That absolutely would have been the best way to do this," said Weires.

Hunt for clues to get class action money continues
The public outcry was loud when cases popped up in late 2008, but experts feel it didn't lead to needed regulation. That allowed homes to slip through the cracks.

"I wish I could go to Washington or the state and smack someone around," said Ehrsam.

On the front lines daily, Ehrsam sees contractors cutting corners when they fix homes with the damaging drywall.

"I've seen where they try to cover up the corrosion or try to hide some things because they know they didn't do it right," said Ehrsam.

Many homeowners haven't even been able to make repairs.

"It's eating my coils. Who knows what it's doing to my health," said homeowner Peggy Mariani.

Mariani knows she has Chinese drywall.

"I filed a claim with the class action," said Mariani.

That was five years ago, and she says she still hasn't been paid by the drywall manufacturer.

Chinese drywall has distinctive markings, and the courts won't accept your claim until you find them.

"They cut down the middle so the problem is we need to get to the part of the board that's further down," said Ehrsam.

Tracing each cut done by the builder during construction Ehrsam hunts for the missing sections that will help him piece together the puzzle.

"Ding, ding, ding! Finally," Ehrsam exclaims.

A milestone that took five years, and five inspections to reach.

"I've got the pictures in my hand and I can see a direct match here," said Ehrsam.

"I'm elated," Mariani says throwing her hands up in the air.

It's the proof Mariani needs to end her financial fight.

While Albornoz's fight is just beginning.

The class action suits against the drywall manufacturers are closed to new claims leaving Albornoz with very few options.

"If the builder doesn't come and do the right thing we are going to have to eat the cost or walk away," said Albornoz.

It's really buyer beware. You can't rely on a home inspection. Sometimes the warning signs are missed. Albornoz said she got a home inspection. Also, ask your potential neighbors lots of questions to find out if there is a history of the problem drywall in your neighborhood.

 

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