Angry home buyers air frustrations

Topic No. 1 at a meeting of upset homeowners: three home builders that take buyers' money but don't deliver finished, quality houses.

Published September 15, 2006

SPRING HILL - Connie Timpanaro's complaint about her home builder was different from many other grievances aired at a meeting Wednesday night:

In her case, the county could take immediate action.

She said a builder had failed to properly pour the foundation of her home and left wooden form boards that are now being eaten by termites.

County Commissioner Chris Kingsley said the county sent an inspector to her house on Thursday.

Addressing most of the other complaints will require long-term changes in the way builders work and the way the state and the county regulate them, said Kingsley, who helped organize the meeting.

He, several homeowners and state Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, arranged the meeting mostly to respond to the problems of Central Harbor Homes of New Port Richey, and Coral Bay Construction Co. and Designer Homes Inc., both of Spring Hill.

The three companies have collected payments from dozens of buyers in the past two years and failed to complete the contracted work.

Dockery was not able to attend, her office said, because of illness.

The homeowners who attended the meeting at the Senior Citizens Club of Hernando County mentioned other issues. Several of them, including Timpanaro, said county inspectors had failed to catch substandard construction.

And many of them echoed the final words of her complaint.

"I'm angry," she said.

Residents complained that the Sheriff's Office had not filed criminal charges against any of the troubled builders, and one of the buyers, Robert Kuderick, said he had never received word from deputies about the result of a complaint he filed against Designer.

"It's been six months since I filed that," he said.

Though no representatives from the Sheriff's Office spoke at the meeting, sheriff's spokeswoman Donna Black said last week that the investigation into Coral Bay was still active.

Other home buyers complained, as they have in the past, that the county Development Department had continued to issue permits to troubled builders.

Development director Grant Tolbert has repeatedly said he has little right to deny builders the right to request permits because contractors are regulated by the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

The homeowners also discussed two ideas to protect buyers in the future.

They favored changing the law that allows subcontractors to place liens against a homeowner even if the homeowner has paid the general contractor for work or materials.

At least one homeowner said the county should require residential builders to have bonds guaranteeing the completion of work they have been paid to do.

Both of those matters would require long-term action and, possibly, changing state law, Kingsley said.

"We can make movements to get all the people to support the legislation to take care of that," he said of the lien law.

Discussing the problems, as they did Wednesday night, was a good first step, he said.

The meeting "was meant to gather information and see what we need to do and who we need to talk to," Kingsley said.

"It worked out really well."

Dan DeWitt can be reached at dewitt@sptimes.com or 352 754-6116.