Bennett’s bill on drywall comes under scrutiny

skennedy@bradenton.comMarch 13, 2010 

MANATEE — State Sen. Mike Bennett has filed a bill that could limit a homeowner’s or condo association’s ability to sue over defective drywall, according to attorneys representing those dealing with contaminated property.

Bennett, R-Bradenton, disputed such views, saying the bill is still in draft form and that he does not plan to advance it the way it is worded now.

“I’m not going to move the bill forward, I’m waiting for input,” he said Friday.

“We’ve got a lot of people whose houses are devastated by drywall, and nobody’s fixing anything.”

Senate Bill 2196 would prohibit, under certain circumstances, legal action in connection with damage to property arising from use of “reactive drywall,” or from repairs necessitated by it, according to its text.

Reactive drywall is contaminated with substances that cause the corrosion of metals or emit sulfurous compounds.

In the absence of established standards for making repairs due to defective drywall, those affected may agree to measures to repair their property. But once repairs are completed, they would no longer have grounds to sue, the bill states.

Sarasota attorney Darren Inverso said if the bill passed as it was written Friday, it would negatively affect some of the 14 clients he represents in defective drywall cases.

“It would have an effect,” Inverso said. “Because some of my clients are actually out there fixing their homes with their own money. It would mean they would lose their claim against the contractor and developers for reimbursement of the out-of-pocket expenses they incurred to fix the damage.”

Michael Ryan, a Fort Lauderdale attorney who also represents property owners with defective drywall, called Bennett’s bill and a similar one, House Bill 1133, “terrible bills for homeowners and condominium associations.”

“Homeowners are in a desperate situation,” Ryan said. “They want to repair or remediate, but there is no certified standard yet.”

Under Bennett’s bill, if a property owner agrees to a remediation with a contractor, even if it turns out to be the wrong solution, there would be no recourse, Ryan said.

Bennett on Thursday described his bill as an effort to “look and see what we could do about Chinese drywall,” adding, “It’s put a lot of consumers in a little hell of a box.”

“I threw a bill out there, hoping to get public hearings and testimony. I don’t know what that something is,” he said. “There are a lot of people with a lot of problems.”

It is the second time in less than a year that a measure sought by Bennett has drawn objections from those representing victims of defective drywall, which has been blamed for a “rotten-eggs” odor, corroded electrical wiring and air-conditioner coils, and health problems.

Last year, the Bradenton Herald reported that Bennett had filed an amendment to three separate legislative bills that would have limited liability for contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers of other installers in connection with defective drywall.

But he withdrew the proposed amendments each time after homeowners protested to the bills’ sponsors, saying their residences are showing toxic effects of Chinese drywall, according to Ryan, who opposed the amendments.

Bennett disputed Ryan’s version of events, saying he had not withdrawn the amendments as a result of pressure from homeowners; he said they had been a ploy designed solely “to get everybody’s attention” that he did not expect would pass, anyway.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031. Herald reporter Duane Marsteller contributed to this story.

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