Developer should be taken to task
© St. Petersburg Times,
Many residents of the Virginia Crossing subdivision in Dunedin face the frightening prospect of losing their homes even though they are innocent of wrongdoing.
Or, if they want to avoid foreclosure, they can pay some of the construction costs of their new homes -- twice.
This disaster is the doing of Virginia Crossing developer Highmark Homes of Dunedin, which failed to pay subcontractors and didn't complete some infrastructure work in the subdivision. The developer says he ran out of money to finish the job because of an "accounting error."
Meanwhile, some homeowners can't move into their homes because the city, using the only power it has to force the developer to complete road and sewer work, is refusing to grant certificates of occupancy.
If this isn't reason enough for the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office to take interest, what is?
The 120 homes in Virginia Crossing range from $172,000 to $203,000 -- in other words, they represent a long-term investment for many of the people who bought homes in the neighborhood. Buying a home can be a financial struggle in itself, but Virginia Crossing residents face extra financial burdens because of the irresponsibility of Highmark Homes.
Subcontractors who were hired by Highmark were not paid and now have placed liens worth up to thousands of dollars on some of the homes. In some cases work that Highmark was supposed to do on homes was done poorly or not at all, leaving homeowners to choose between living with the situation or paying again to have the work done by someone else. In May the owners of 120 homes finally decided to pay $1,000 per household to finish work on the community clubhouse-pool complex and park. Some residents have had to hire lawyers and pay those bills, too.
Highmark Homes is not the first developer on the Suncoast to leave its customers stranded, but the company should not be allowed to get away with it. The Pinellas County Department of Consumer Protection has decided to investigate the situation at Virginia Crossing. The department unfortunately does not have the power to punish Highmark. But the consumer office has a close relationship with the State Attorney's Office and can convey to that office not only all the information turned up in the investigation, but also the appalling degree to which Highmark violated the promises it made to homeowners. The State Attorney's Office can file charges against the company.
In February, company president Andrew Strong said the work in Virginia Crossing "probably" would get done in three to six months. The residents' decision to use their own money to complete the clubhouse is an indication of how much stock they put in Strong's words.
It is quite a comedown for a company that in 1999 received the first Housing Excellence Award given by the Contractors & Builders Association of Pinellas. The award recognized consistent high quality in building.
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
From the Times
North Pinellas desks