MANATEE -- The Florida Attorney General's office has referred complaints regarding allegations of fraudulent practices by home builder KB Home to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
John Lucas, spokesman for the attorney general's office, said the attorney general's office has an economic protection unit that deals with violations of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, but said the state agency would be better suited to handle the complaints, since it regulates Florida's construction industry.
State Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, submitted a request to the attorney general's office this week to investigate business practices by KB Home upon learning of two whistleblower lawsuits in which former employees alleged the California-based company knew of problems with a development in East Manatee, but sold them anyway.
Reports of structural defects in KB Home's Willowbrook neighborhood surfaced in late July. Over the last two months, Manatee County building inspectors have inspected 77 balconies in the condominium community and have ruled 39 unsafe. Homeowners have reached out to nearly a dozen KB Home communities in the Tampa Bay area, all citing structural defects, and have also connected with KB Home owners in California, Colorado and Texas.
Several Willowbrook homeowners have also mailed complaints to the Attorney General's office regarding structural defects and their displeasure with KB Home.
The Department of Business and Professional Regulation has not reported an investigation into KB Home and can not confirm or deny whether there is a pending investigation into a state license until 10 days after probable cause is found, a spokeswoman for the department said.
The department's Division of Regulation receives complaints against licensed professionals in Florida and reviews them to determine whether the complaints have legal sufficiency, said Sandi Poreda, director of communications for the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations. Once a complaint has been determined to have legal sufficiency, it will be investigated. After review, an investigation may reach the department's probable cause panel, which Poreda compared to a criminal grand jury.
"If the licensee disputes the allegations, we proceed to a formal hearing," Poreda said. "If the licensee admits the allegations or fails to respond, the construction board conducts an informal hearing and issues the appropriate administrative penalties."
License suspension is a potential disciplinary action, Poreda said.
Lucas said the Attorney General's office would cooperate in an investigation if need be.
The Willowbrook homeowners have requested the multibillion dollar company buy back their units, but KB Home has refused, standing by its warranty. KB Home came to an agreement with the Willowbrook Condo Association to allow third party contractors to make repairs in the 272-unit community at the expense of KB Home.
Nick Williams, Herald reporter, can be contacted at 941-748-0411, ext. 7049 or tweet@_NickWilliams.