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Real Estate & Property Law

Owners Blame Cities for Bad Homes

Posted Jul 6, 2007 7:39 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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As builders throughout the country rushed to profit in the recent construction boom, a number of homes and developments went up that were badly built or otherwise created problems. But in the resulting blame game, many homeowners are now saying municipalities large and small gave builders free rein instead of doing their job and seeing that construction met government standards.

Among them is Gwen Stites, whose home in Hollister, Mo., is unfinished after the developer absconded and lacks, among other expected amenities, a road in front of it, according to the Springfield, Mo., News-Leader. Stites won a $26,000 judgment against the builder, which she can't collect, but says she would not join in a possible lawsuit to force the city to complete roads and sewers because she hopes the city will do so voluntarily.

Stites, who is a retired pastor's daughter, was among a number of homeowners taken in by the builder's talk of creating a community of people who shared his religious faith, where planned streets had names like Praise Way and Moses Drive.

More sophisticated homeowners say they were also taken in by a luxury Chicago building project, in which newly constructed frame homes in Bridgeport Village won't stand up to weather conditions in the well-known Windy City. But they are also angry that municipal officials recognized problems with as many as 30,000 homes there and elsewhere, yet didn't warn owners. Chicago building officials recommended such warnings, but were overruled, the Tribune reported earlier this week.

(Meanwhile, a former Bridgeport Village construction manager now involved in litigation over the project claimed in a letter to the editor that the flap was prompted by political concerns rather than bona-fide building issues. His claims are detailed in an earlier Chicago Sun-Times article.)

In New York City, even the commissioner of the Department of Buildings admits that enforcement has been lax and must be improved, reports the New York Daily News in an editorial yesterday.

And it isn't just those who purchase poorly constructed homes who suffer from inadequate municipal oversight of building projects, the paper points out. "Dozens of workers died in accidents, virtually all of them immigrants on nonunion jobs that often failed to pay legal wages; neighborhoods like Brooklyn's Manhattan Beach were defiled by buildings that were out of scale, and homeowners saw their houses severely damaged by shoddy work on adjoining properties."

The editorial follows an in-depth Daily News "Building Boom-Doggle" series in May and June. It has prompted complaints, calls for reform and legislation, the paper says.

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