EAST MANATEE -- The residents of the Willowbrook condo community in East Manatee are not alone.
Willowbrook homeowners, who have for weeks spoken out against home builder KB Home for poor construction and repairs, have made contact with groups of other unhappy KB Home owners in the Orlando area, California, Colorado and Texas. The
frustrated homeowners are banding together to schedule protests locally, and eventually, nationally against the multi-billion dollar home building company.
"We're going to do this across the nation," said Willowbrook homeowner Armando Oyola-Delgado. "We're not playing around."
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Residents from the Willowbrook community have requested inspections by Manatee County government to survey their balconies to prove their theories of construction damage. As of Friday, county inspectors had surveyed 27 balconies, of which 20 were ruled unsafe due to sinking floors, some of which have fallen through, and loose rails along the edge. The residents, however, said the inside of their homes have received equal damage from rain coming in through the balcony, resulting in water damage to floors and walls, in addition to mold.
In the Tampa Bay area, issues with KB Home communities are surfacing.
In Clearwater, Bryson Bort and a number of homeowners living in the Waterford town home community have been battling with KB Home over damage to their homes.
Bort said the homes in Waterford have similar problems to those found in Willowbrook -- water intrusion, deterioration and poor construction. Bort has filed a lawsuit against KB Home in Pinellas County court, alleging a breach of contract for selling a home with construction defects and conducting unfair trade practices, according to his attorney, Tampa lawyer Craig Hall.
The Palm River town home community in Tampa has been subject to toxic drywall, dating back to 2009 when defective Chinese-made drywall was discovered in some of the units.
Marla Russell purchased her home in 2006 and has had several issues with rotting floors, crumbling balconies and mold. Like the homeowners in Willowbrook, she requested KB Home buy back her unit.
"They're horrible," Russell said. "In the first two years I lived in my home, it was one mold disaster after the other."
Due to water damage, Russell said her neighbor's balcony has been torn down and rebuilt multiple times by KB Home. She said another neighbor's walls exploded when sewage pipes installed improperly burst.
Russell was disheartened to learn other communities in the Tampa area are having similar problems with KB Home.
"It made me sick to know other people had to live like this," she said. "There are a number of people in North America living the KB Dream, and its not a good dream."
Multiple consumer websites and Facebook groups exist where homeowners across the U.S. share struggles of purchasing KB Home products with defects. A couple in California, Brandon and Stephani Wing, contacted the Bradenton Herald and said their drywall had to be replaced three times by KB Home and they've become ill from inhaling compound used in the repair. They've also created a website and YouTube video displaying their issues with KB Home.
"The more I reach out, the more I realize this is happening across the country," said Willowbrook resident Andy Smith, who created a website for people with KB Home problems.
On Aug. 11, several Willowbrook owners protested outside the Sterling Lake community in Bradenton where new homes by KB Homes are being sold. Willowbrook residents have filed complaints with state agencies, and homeowner Neysa Buckle, who purchased her home in Willowbrook in 2009, created a national online petition that will be sent to KB Home and state agencies. Since Aug. 7, the petition, which was created on Change.org, a social website that allows campaigning for various issues, has collected roughly 150 signatures.
"It's important to increase awareness," Buckle said.
Willowbrook residents have questioned why KB Home was allowed to build homes in Manatee considering a history of incidents with government agencies, which includes paying a $2 million civil penalty to the Federal Trade Commission and agreeing to a $3.2 million settlement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2005.
"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 said in a statement earlier this month.
Manatee County Commissioners have the final approval on local development in unincorporated areas of the county.
Willowbrook was KB Home's first venture into Manatee and sales for the community opened in 2006.
Neither the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation nor the Federal Trade Commission would confirm or deny an investigation into KB Home.
Nick Williams, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 7049. Twitter:@_1NickWilliams