State senator asks Florida attorney general to investigate KB Home

nwilliams@bradenton.comOctober 2, 2012 

MANATEE -- Mike Bennett, a state senator and Manatee supervisor of elections candidate, has requested Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi investigate KB Home and its businesses practices.

Bennett said he requested the investigation after learning about two whistle-blower lawsuits filed against KB Home by former employees in recent years. The lawsuits alleged KB Home was aware of structural defects in the Willowbrook condominium community in East Manatee prior to selling the units. KB Home released a statement saying the allegations were unfounded, corrections were made and potential homeowners received notification of the problems.

Some homeowners said they were never notified of the defects.

"That struck a cord with me," said Bennett, who will term out of office by November, but is on the Nov. 6 ballot as the Republican candidate for Manatee County Supervisor of Elections "You're tell

ing me they had inside people that knew about these problems and they still did nothing?"

One of the lawsuits stated KB Home tried to conceal defects in 50 to 60 Willowbrook townhomes and that "substandard/inadequate materials" were used.

Bennett has met with residents of Willowbrook, who have battled with KB Home for years over structural defects linked to water intrusion and sinking floors on the second and third floor decks and interior floors, along with signs of mold.

Since Aug. 3, more than 70 balconies have been inspected inside the 272-unit community by Manatee County building inspectors at the request of residents. More than 30 have been ruled unsafe. The Willowbrook condos were KB Home's first venture into Manatee County. KB Home began selling homes in Willowbrook in 2006.

"I don't feel the people at Willowbrook are getting the answer they need and resolution they need," Bennett said. "There are a lot of them out there. Their values are going down."

In August, dozens of Willowbrook residents mailed complaints to Bondi's office, as well as other elected officials, regarding their construction problems. The residents have since joined with nearly a dozen KB Home communities in the Tampa Bay area, all citing structural defects.

In 2009, Seattle-based law firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro filed a class-action lawsuit against KB Home on behalf of a central Florida homeowner, alleging KB Home, Countrywide Financial and LandSafe Appraisal Services conspired to rig housing prices in Florida, as well as North Carolina and South Carolina, by controlling the independent appraisal process and inflating home prices.

The case was settled but the law firm claimed home prices for 19,000 homes built by KB Home in the Southeast between 2006 and 2008 were inflated by $600 million. The law firm filed similar suits against KB Home for clients in California, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and Texas.

"How much of this is going on?" Bennett said. "If there's been a pattern and that's a publicly traded company, it should be investigated. I'm one of the hugest supporters of construction in Florida, but the right thing to do is the right thing to do."

The Attorney General's Office has been reviewing complaints received regarding KB Home, a spokesman from Bondi's office said. The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations has not reported an investigation into KB Home.

Nick Williams, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 7049. Twitter:@_1NickWilliams

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