By Judith Evans
The Washington Post
A defunct Washington area builder has agreed to pay $775,000 as settlement of a lawsuit in which residents of the Homeland Village Condominiums in Olney alleged the builder did shoddy work and installed controversial retardant treated plywood in the roofs.
In settling the case, now defunct Artery Organization Inc., as well as 10 subcontractors and suppliers, agreed last week to end a five year legal dispute while denying any wrongdoing in the am. The case was scheduled to go to trial next week before Judge Michael Mason County Circuit Court in Rockville.
The dispute began in the late 1980s when homeowners at the 144 unit condominium complex started experiencing leaks around their doors, windows and balconies when it rained, said Beau Brincefield, an Alexandria lawyer who represented the homeowners. The homes were built and sold by Artery in 1986 and 1987.
Engineering consultants hired by the homeowners determined that improperly installed siding and flashing around windows and doors and inadequate balcony attachments were among the causes of the leaks, Brincefield said. During its inspections, engineers also discovered the builder and its subcontractors had used a form of fire retardant treated (FRI) plywood in the condominium roofs that has been found to deteriorate under intense heat from the sun The plywood was supposed to prevent fire from spreading to other roofs in attached dwelling.
FRT plywood was widely used in town houses and condominiums built from 1979 to 1989, said William Young, director of consumer affairs for the National Association of Home Builders Among the major manufacturers of the plywood are Hoover Treated Wood Products Inc., Osmose Wood Preserving Inc. and Hoover Universal Inc.
The builders’ trade group estimates the defective FRT plywood was installed in up to 150,000 homes nationwide, mostly in New Jersey and the Washington Baltimore area, Young said. Over the years many large builders have replaced the plywood for homeowners and sought to recoup the costs from the product’s manufacturers, he said.
Other homeowners, however, have been forced to foot the bill themselves and some repair work has been done by the homeowners’ association at Homeland Village. It has typically cost $2,000 to and $3,000 to replace the plywood in individual roofs, Young said. Many smaller builders refused to make repairs to homes they built because they were were unable to afford the cost. “It’s complicated and messy litigation,” Young said. “If you didn’t have Pulte, Ryan or another large builder [who replaced the plywood], you’re basically on your own.”
In an attempt to help individuals recover repair costs. Virginia recently passed a law giving homeowners the right to directly sue the manufacturer of their plywood. Maryland is considering similar action.
Officials at Artery Organization denied the allegations by Brincefield and the residents of Homeland Village condos that any construction work of units at the complex was improper or that Artery had misrepresented the quality of the homes to buyers, said Leonard Goodman, the firm’s lawyer. Goodman declined to discuss details of the settlement, citing a confidentiality agreement among the dispute’s Participants.