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Families fight builder over moldy homes

Posted: July 17, 2008 12:38 a.m.
Updated: July 17, 2008 5:01 a.m.
 
At first glance, it looks like the McDougal family just moved in. They use patio furniture indoors and sleep on air mattresses at night.

It's been eight years since they moved into their Canyon Country home and have been haunted by a mold problem that just won't go away.

The worst part, they said, is that they can't seem to get the help they need.

The McDougals recently filed a lawsuit against several parties, including the builder, Ryland Homes, as well as a consulting and construction company and a local moving company.

At least three homes on Saddleback Ridge Road have reported having problems with mold. The Reder family, who live next door to the McDougals, is also filing a lawsuit against the builder over similar problems. And Carrie Larson across the street recently noticed patches of mold growing in her home.

The McDougal family has filed a lawsuit against Ryland Homes for a breach of warranty for habitability and is seeking money to help cover bills from medical problems they claim stem from mold exposure.

Ryland Homes, a large housing developer that has built more than 260,000 homes across the country, said it has done more than enough to remedy the situation.

The company issued the following statement this week: "We have spent years trying to satisfy these two homeowners and earlier in the year, we reached an agreement with them and their recent lawsuit is without merit and we firmly believe that we, Ryland, have treated these homeowners with the utmost fairness and consideration."

But the McDougals said the builder has turned the last two years into the ultimate homeowner's nightmare.

The McDougals moved into their home when it was new in 1999. In the first couple of years, they noticed something wasn't right. A sprinkler broke in their backyard and the water would not drain. Gigi McDougal said Ryland told her the family was overwatering; that the sprinklers were turned up too high.

In October 2004, the family noticed their hardwood floors lifting and noticed a musty smell. They cut open a piece of the floor and found mold growing underneath. Robert Vasquez of the county Department of Public Health's office of Environmental Services came out and tested the house's moisture levels with a moisture meter.

On the north side of the house closest to the hillside, he detected moisture levels high enough that they could be considered a health hazard, he said.

"It was musty and the concrete moisture reading was high and we were concerned with that," he said. Vasquez said that he recommended that a geologist look into the sources of the moisture intrusion.

Mark Schluter, a senior geologist with Converse Consulting, said that the housing development was built on an ancient landslide plane.

An extensive subdrain system runs down the middle of the street, he said. Most of the problem, he said, is that there is too much irrigation water coming down the hill onto Saddleback Ridge Road, where the McDougals live.

He called the section of the hill a drainage benefit assessment area, an area that needs to be closely monitored.

"The city has a number of those projects which we review to make sure the groundwater conditions are staying where they were intended to be for design purposes and aren't rising," he said.

In 2005, the two families said they met with a Ryland Homes representative who offered that the builder would buy the homes back at an unspecified price of his choosing. Assuming the price would be below market value, the McDougals decided to keep the home.

"We wanted the home," Gigi McDougal said. "We wanted the home fixed."

They said he also offered that the builder would pay for $50,000 in upgrades and would install hot tubs in the homes.

McDougal said they were told it would take six weeks for PT Consulting and Construction Inc. to repair the areas of the homes affected by mold. She said that at the expense of Ryland Homes, the families each stayed in an apartment for nine months. The McDougals' house was gutted and their walls and cabinets were replaced or repaired.

Although they were told not to, the McDougals said they regularly visited their home during the night to check the contractor's work. She said her concern was that the contractor was going to close up the walls without getting rid of the mold.

"We crept in there with mirrors and flashlights and looked and saw things," she said. "For almost a year, we knew there was something wrong with these homes."

The family's constant checking, however, may have angered the superintendent to the point that he allegedly assaulted both McDougal and her neighbor Sheri, on at least two separate occasions, McDougal said.

In one instance, McDougal said he grabbed her arm and shoved her into a closet that she could not escape from when she tried to open the door, according the police report.

Ted Schutte, the president of PT Consulting and Construction, issued the following statement: "PTC&C feels the lawsuits filed by the Reders and the McDougals are without merit. As far as the opinions of the Reders and the McDougals towards my company, me personally or my staff, it is clearly mudslinging and PTC&C refuses to take part in whatever agenda they may have."

The McDougals said they are still waiting to get the furniture back in their home. They claim that the moving company has not given them back 80 percent of the furniture the company took out of the house before the reconstruction began. The other 20 percent, they said, is damaged.

Norb Brown, the owner of Service Master in Canyon Country, said their company isn't to blame.

"We're dying to get rid of it," he said. "I've been begging them for a year and a half to two years to get it out of here. We've had it in here so long it's in the way."

By January, the two families had moved back into their homes. In each house, the contractors had placed an epoxy seal beneath the flooring to help keep the water from coming through the floors.

A building inspector from the city of Santa Clarita had passed the house, but the McDougal family still had their doubts, they said.

"(The contractors) hooked up fans to smoke alarms that caught on fire, we had four plumbing leaks basically in each house, we had two major gas leaks, we have the house sinking on one side and we've been told our foundations are off," Gigi McDougal said.

Worst of all, she said, there is still mold in the house.

She said Ryland Homes has not kept its word from the original agreements. She said Ryland has not paid the $50,000 in upgrades like they had promised and the family has not seen a new hot tub either.

There is mold growing in her garage and under her kitchen sink, and the same musty odor still emanates through the house.

"They come in and they pay attention to it for a minute, then they Band-Aid fix it," she said. "It's all right back being wet, it's all leaking again, but still they won't come out and do anything about it."

The McDougals are still in the beginning stages of their lawsuit against the companies. They said they are seeking what they deserved.

"They bought a new home. They didn't expect to have all these problems," said their attorney Ron Wilton of Wilton and Associates. "They want to be compensated for the dislocation, for being kicked out of their house, for the trouble they had to incur over the years in dealing with Ryland, for the trouble, the concerns, the issues of emotional distress related to having to constantly walk into a house that just isn't the way it should be."

He said the underlying cause of the mold - the underground drainage issues - are fundamentally the problem and need to be addressed.

"They still have mold problems," he said. "And of course, you have the mold exposure, which is causing health problems for everybody. It is unfortunate and unfair that they are now in a position to spend years battling the huge company just to get what they paid for back in 1999."

In addition to compensation for some of the medical bills, the McDougals are asking for compensation for their emotional distress over the past two years.

"(My children) have been socially, physically and emotionally ... damaged throughout this whole thing," McDougal said. "We've been to every government agency for help. There's absolutely nothing we can do."

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