EAST MANATEE -- About 40 unhappy residents living in the Willowbrook community flooded the Lakewood Ranch Post Office drop box Saturday with approximately 2,000 letters addressed to KB Home and government officials complaining about their substandard homes.
A caravan of vehicles -- some with messages painted on their windows -- lined the post office driveway. Residents held posters and banners calling attention to their situation.
The homeowners make up a diverse group. But their stories all have the same ending -- they live in deteriorating units and are asking KB Home, a California-based company, to buy back their houses.
Aisha and Harold Holmes, who have lived in the 270-unit, gated community since December 2009, say they have weak subfloors and rusted screws sticking out of their ceilings.
The front of Ashley Delph's home is crumbling and she refuses to let her 1-year-old daughter crawl on the floor because of ants.
"They just keep bandaging the problems," Delph said of KB Home's efforts. "They (the units) need to be torn down to be fixed correctly."
James Murga, who recently developed Crohn's Disease and suffers from severe allergies, blames the living conditions of the Willowbrook home he's lived in since July 2007. Murga compared the situation to being exposed to "food poisoning" daily.
Stuart and Judy Kline worked 40 years to buy a new home that is now leaking.
Roxanne Smith has been in and out of the hospital for almost two years since buying her unit. When the drywall was taken down in her living room due to water intrusion and mold, it became evident that gaps in the framing led directly outside.
The plot line is the same for many other residents living in the two- to six-year-old homes.
"If there was a lemon law for homes, this would fit right in," said homeowner Nick Sommer.
People agreed the only good thing brought about by the problem is the neighborhood's unity.
Residents spent the past week printing letters that were mailed to the KB Home board of
directors, President Barack Obama, state legislators and county commissioners.
Andy Smith createdwww.thekbhome.com, where owners of KB Home properties from across the country are welcome toshare their own storiesand photos. Smith said the recently launched website receives about 200 hits a day.
Manatee County officials deemed two of the homes in the 270-unit gated community unsafe Friday and more could follow suit.
"We're not going to stop until KB buys our houses back," said Armando Oyola-Delgado, who owns one of the units marked unsafe. "Frustration is an understatement of what we feel."
Oyola-Delgado moved into the community six years ago and said his home has "basically been under construction since I moved here."
About two years ago, Oyola-Delgado fell through his bedroom floor into the living room. Oyola-Delgado's balcony is crumbling, part of his living room is sealed off because of mold and he sleeps on the couch to avoid the top floor.
He rents an apartmentfor the rest of his family,including his two children.
Homeowners said they have received little, ifany, communication from KB Home or the Willowbrook Homeowners Association.
According to the Better Business Bureau, KB homes has received about 65 complaints over the past three years.
"We beat out that. Now they are about up to 120," Sommer said.
KB Home released a statement this week saying the company was aware of the situation and had received a claim from the Willowbrook condo association. The details of that claim have still not been made available.
Residents are under the impression that there is no pending litigation.
Current market value of the units ranges between $125,000 to $165,000, Sommer said.
"But basically these homes are worthless right now," added Sally Urbaniak who purchased a home -- now marked unsafe -- two years ago for her daughter who is a LECOM student.
The second floor balcony has a sagging floor and a tarp hangs along the third story to prevent leaks.
"It's a nightmare," she said. "This has taken over our lives."
Elizabeth Johnson, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041.