Arvida Letter Tells of Possible Code Violations; Homeowners Have Filed Suit Claiming Problems with Mold

Article excerpt

Byline: Steve Patterson, Times-Union staff writer

Facing lawsuits over construction quality, one of Florida's most famous developers is telling some customers it may not have followed state building codes.

Arvida, the creator of dozens of planned communities and resorts, has written to new home-buyers in a Jacksonville subdivision that its window installation and use of stucco "may differ in some ways" from what Florida law requires.

An Arvida executive said the company began writing to new customers in March to ensure buyers would be satisfied.

"We wanted to inform customers. . . . The fact that we sent that letter demonstrates how responsible we are," said John Baric, a vice president and the company's general counsel.

Baric wouldn't say whether Arvida's new construction meets building codes, saying instead that the firm builds high-quality homes. The company's letter doesn't explain how its practices might differ from state codes, and says Arvida homes "meet or exceed the prevailing building practices in the area."

But the notice has made some earlier customers uneasy.

"Why don't they fix the problem instead of sending out letters explaining what they're doing?" said Richard Gordon, who bought a home last year in James Island, a development off Gate Parkway where homes typically cost $250,000 to $300,000.

Gordon said his house seems fine, but this month he hired a home examiner to evaluate the property before a one-year warranty expired.

Owners of six James Island homes have sued Arvida, claiming their houses were full of mold because moisture seeped through improperly installed windows and too-thin coats of exterior stucco. They want a judge to authorize a class-action suit affecting hundreds of their neighbors.

Any evidence of code violations could have broader consequences for the construction industry.

At James Island, Arvida employed a relatively new Florida law to hire a private, state-licensed firm to inspect homes as they are built, relieving Arvida from most oversight by the city's Building Inspection Division.

"It won't serve them well if they screwed up, because everyone is scrutinizing them pretty closely" because of the letters they sent, said Robert McCormick, executive director of the Building Officials Association of Florida. "I would not like to be the test [case]."

Inspectors who approved the James Island homes believed they met state building codes, said Carl Coger, a manager with the inspection firm Arvida employs, Bissell Architects. He said he couldn't speculate about what differences Arvida's letter referred to.

Coger said his company performs a series of inspections mandated by the code, but that the examinations don't touch every detail of how a home is built. …