Advocates ask that builders, sellers be held accountable
by Kris Banks – Staff Writer, Daily Texan
October 16, 2002
A homeowner advocacy group demanded a "lemon law" for buying homes Tuesday in front of the Texas Capitol.
Janet Ahmad, Home Owners for Better Building president, said lack of regulation in the home-building industry and problems with homeowners’ insurance in Texas hang consumers out to dry.
"The building industry is out of control," she said. "We will explore all legal means to protect homeowners from predatory companies."
Ahmad proposed a home lemon law that would work much like the lemon law that applies to cars, in which the seller gets three opportunities to fix it, and then the seller must buy it back.
Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, proposed a home lemon law in the 2001 session, but it was defeated.
Ahmad made complaints about mold despite a Texas Medical Association report released last month stating that black mold was not a significant threat to health.
Van de Putte said the Environmental Protection Agency had put forth contradictory evidence to the TMA’s.
Mold still represents a construction problem, Ahmad said. Ahmad showed photographs of moldy boards in the frame of a house. The mold turned out to be harmless, but that was of little comfort to her.
"That means in the best case scenario, decaying lumber is being used to build our homes," she said.
Ahmad had about 15 homeowners speak about their negative experiences in buying a home recently.
Jim and Amelia Payne said they spent $150,000 on a home in Castroville that has cost them $300,000. Amelia Payne said that despite buying their house new, they had to reinforce the framing and straighten the roofing.
Jim Payne said they had to go through binding arbitration, meaning instead of going to court, they met with their seller and a mediator.
At least five homeowners were from a subdivision in Kyle called the High Meadow Subdivision. Channing Stewart had water leaking through his windows. Tracie Samuel found a jug of water and Taco Cabana wrappers in her walls. Cynthia Vasquez had large yellow stains on her garage walls. All say they bought their houses new.
Kristi Sutterfield, vice president of the Texas Association of Builders, said lemon laws that are like those for automobiles would not work for homes.
"Homeowners have it incumbent upon them to do preventive maintenance," she said. "If a homeowner changes the direction of his drainage, he may cause water damage to his home’s foundation."
Sutterfield said the association favors arbitration instead of lawsuits.
Ahmad said Gov. Rick Perry, Insurance Commissioner Jose Montemayor and Attorney General John Cornyn have not done enough to protect consumers.
"Rick Perry and Jose Monte-mayor gave insurance companies everything they asked for," Ahmad said.
Gene Acu?a, a spokesman for Perry, said Perry has been very attentive to the problem of homeowners’ insurance.
"The insurance crisis is the first issue the Legislature will face in the 2003 session," he said.
Acu?a said Perry ordered an investigation into the matter of insurance in February, before the crisis emerged.