Willowbrook residents ask KB Home to buy back their condos in East Manatee

jajones1@bradenton.comAugust 2, 2012 

EAST MANATEE -- Frustrated residents of the 272-unit Willowbrook condo neighborhood say they want KB Home to buy back their condos, pointing to construction flaws, water damage, mold and balcony floors that are sagging or have fallen through.

"Every one of these buildings is having a problem," said Dan Koehler, who bought his condo three years ago.

Koehler has had a problem with water intrusion, the most visible damage being a falling ceiling on his balcony and a sinking floor down below.

Sally Urbaniak has a blue tarp inside her unit to keep out water and fight mold.

Urbaniak bought the unit two years ago for her daughter, a pharmacy student at Lake Erie College of Medicine, and noticed mold growing on her floors around Memorial Day. She suspects the problem had been growing undetected for some time.

"KB Home has stopped responding to us. They say it's because it's in litigation, they can't come out and do anything," Urbaniak said.

Cara Kane, a representative with KB Home in its Los Angeles headquarters, released a statement when asked about the homeowners' problems.

"KB Home is committed to customer satisfaction and has been working diligently to resolve the issues. The Willowbrook Association recently presented KB Home with a claim on behalf of its members and we have worked with the Association to inspect their concerns and look forward to fully and fairly resolving the homeowners' concerns."

KB Home has been building single-family homes, townhomes and condominiums since 1964. The company operates in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas.

Willowbrook residents say they have made complaints for years, but any fixes KB Home made were like bandages that did nothing to correct problems.

"It was like a rotating door on field reps," said Koehler.

Armando Oyola-Delgado says he has owned his unit for six years and had problems from day one.

A sheet of plastic runs from the ceiling to the floor of the back wall on the second story of his condo to keep out water and control mold. But the unit suffers from water intrusion from the third story to the first.

"It flows into the garage like a waterfall," Oyola-Delgado said.

Many of the residents have gotten to know each other well because of the mutual problems.

"We have been going door to door to find out who has issues," Koehler said.

"Everyone loves the community and the homes, but you can't live here because it's not safe," Koehler said.

If Willowbrook were a car, "it would fall under the lemon law," Oyola-Delgado said.

Roxanne Miller bought her house in 2009.

"I paid cash for it. I bought it in good faith," she said.

From the start, she had issues with the structural integrity of the floor, which sagged, and a few months later she noticed water intrusion.

"They worked on the problems but it only seemed to make things worse," Miller said.

She began having breathing issues and made several trips to the emergency room. Eventually, her doctor diagnosed her problem as an allergic reaction to mold.

Seven months after buying the house, she left and moved to Chicago.

"KB needs to buy back my house and pay me for everything I lost. I had to sell my car, and had to use all my retirement savings. They have put me from being middle class to being in financial ruin," Miller said. "I ended up broke, I lost everything."

Residents of Willowbrook say they have written everyone from President Obama to local officials seeking help with their problems.

Dozens of them plan to make a stop at the Lakewood Ranch Post Office at 11 a.m. Saturday with 50 to 60 letters each addressed to the CEO and board members of KB Home, to government officials and anyone else who "will listen and can give us help."

The Better Business Bureau in Colton, Calif., said the company has an A-plus rating. In the past three years, KB Home has had 65 complaints, a bureau official said Wednesday.

"That's typical for the nature of the industry," she said.

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