Responding to problems at Willowbrook, Manatee County to ask for statewide change in arbitration clauses

BRADENTON — Inspired by stories of housing problems from Willowbrook condominium residents in East Manatee, Manatee County is proposing state legislation that would essentially void mandatory arbitration clauses in contracts for the sale and construction of single family and multifamily homes.

The proposal was suggested Thursday during a public land-use meeting and will be an agenda item during the Florida legislative session in March and presented by the county’s Tallahassee lobbyist, Cari Roth.

Homeowners first talked with commissioners Aug. 21, telling them their homes have water intrusion on the third and second floor balconies, which has led to sinking floors and loose guard rails. Interior damage includes wood deterioration and wall moisture. Some residents said they’ve spotted evidence of mold.

Residents told the board mandatory arbitration clauses were included in their contracts with California-based KB Home, which prohibits them from suing the developer for poor construction. If passed by the Florida Legislature, a homeowner can file a lawsuit in circuit court against the contractor rather than be forced to go through a mandatory arbitration process.

Through arbitration, legally binding settlements are made outside of court through a third party.

A representative from KB Home and about a dozen residents from Willowbrook were present at the meeting.

“We’re going to repair these units, we’re going to make this community whole, and we’ll make the residents proud,” said George Glance, president of KB Home’s Central Florida operations.

Glance took questions from the board, which included whether the company would relocate homeowners whose units needed repair. “If the repairs are disruptive to their lives, the answer is yes,” Glance replied.

Residents took their turn talking to the board, urging KB Home to rectify the situation. Several county commissioners expressed dissatisfaction with the situation. Commissioner Robin DiSabatino sympathized with residents saying she had a similar situation with a town home while living in Delaware.

“It’s really a shame and a travesty,” she said. “It’s a shame it took an article in the paper to see what’s going on.” “I would not live in those conditions with my family,” said commissioner Joe McClash.

“We’re sorry this happened to you,” added Commissioner Carol Whitmore.