Drywall problem? Homeowners, take precautions

MANATEE — Controversy over defective drywall manufactured in China has raised questions about the prescription needed to cure ailing houses.

“There’s just a lot of an unanswered questions,” said Darren Inverso, a Sarasota attorney who has filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of homeowners.

Since awareness of problems with defective drywall has only recently been raised, experts are still trying to determine a protocol to effectively remove the material and repair any other household components that may be damaged. The drywall, which has been known to emit a foul odor, has caused copper wiring to corrode and air-conditioning components to fail.

Residents already plagued by drywall problems should exercise caution about who they allow to work on their homes, said Inverso. He advises homeowners to first check for contractor certification and any complaints that may have been filed. Another recommendation would be to get references from three previous local clients to confirm quality of work and customer satisfaction.

Homeowners should also be leery of anyone who comes in with a “splash board” approach and rips out drywall with no protocol to fix the problem.

Warranty information and protocol should be in writing from a team of contractor and subcontractors who understand the entire process from beginning to end.

“That’s one of the big issues, is that is what are you going to do to be able to understand the breadth of the problem,” Inverso said. “There’s got to be a plan, and the plan has to include investigation, analysis, demolition and rebuild.”

In Manatee County, neighborhoods that have been affected include Heritage Harbour, GreyHawk Landing, Crystal Lakes, Greenbrook and Fairways at Imperial Lakewoods. Developers in Manatee County that used the drywall include Taylor Morrison, WCI Communities and Lennar Corp., which has been proactive in making repairs on homes and relocating residents.

John Zajac, corporate counsel for the Better Business Bureau serving west Florida, said the first step homeowners should take is to contact the parties involved in the construction of the home.

“If consumers are experiencing problems, they need to contact the source where they purchased it, the supplier, the builder and the manufacturer,” he said.

Residents not satisfied with the resolution can contact the Better Business Bureau, which serves west Florida from Naples to Tampa, at (727) 535-5522.

Once people have decided that they need work done and they believe they have found someone to do it, it’s important for consumers to ask the right questions. Looking into the past affiliations of the person and not just the company is recommended, he said. The Better Business Bureau links records to determine who has been affiliated with companies in the past. Sometimes, people just change the name of their business to hide from poor reputations, Zajac said.

“You want to know who you are doing business with,” he said.

About nine unlicensed contractors were busted in a sting by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation earlier this month. The slow economy was to blame for homeowners turning to unlicensed contractors to do the work.

John Barnott, Manatee County building department head, said the department is working on a Web site to allow residents to find out information on contractors, construction practices and rules and regulations from the Florida Building Code in the next few months.

“We’re working very hard every day to make improvements,” Barnott said.

Homeowners also can obtain a list of licensed contractors from the Manatee County Chamber of Commerce, the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange, the Home Builders Association of Manatee County or the Manatee County Building Department, which can be reached at (941) 749-3047.