Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel
October 17, 2013
From the outside, the homes in Delray's Bexley Park look like models. The lawns are mowed, the paint looks fresh and kids play outside.
But inside the walls of many of the homes, it's a different story.
Lurking behind the drywall is rotting wood, mold and mildew, say the homeowners association president and many residents. The HOA wants developer D.R. Horton, which built the complex in 2005, to fix the problems.
Bexley Park was designed as an affordable housing complex, and HOA President Mitchell Katz says the association has no money to fix problems that a contractor it hired says affect 161 of the 262 homes.
So far, Katz says, Horton hasn't responded to pleas for help. Despite phone calls and emails, D.R. Horton could not be reached for comment about the construction of Bexley Park, and the contentions of the HOA, which says the problems stem from faulty construction.
In 2003, Delray invited Horton, a company that does business nationwide, to build the mixture of single-family homes, three-story town homes and two-story manor homes between Barwick Road and Military Trail.
Bexley Park homeowner and Bexley Park Homeowners Association President Mitch Katz talks about how the water has leaked into the drywall.
Originally, that location was supposed to be home to Atlantic Community High School. When another site was selected for the school, the city was left with acres of empty land.
Simultaneously, the housing boom went into full swing, and the prices of Delray's homes skyrocketed, forcing many municipal workers out of the city.
Many commuted to Delray from more affordable cities such as Stuart or Port St. Lucie.
In an effort to keep city employees — particularly fire-rescue workers and police officers — closer to their workplace, the commission unanimously voted to sell the land to D.R. Horton for $7.3 million. In exchange, the developer would provide affordable housing to city employees and Delray residents.
So Bexley Park was born.
Katz said the problems started in 2011 when a resident leaned against a wall in her home, and her hand went straight through it.
An outside contractor hired by the HOA to investigate the windows in 161 of the homes concluded they hadn't been installed properly.
The windows were built into a wood frame, and the pane that collects water and pushes it out instead of into the house when it rains was missing, the consultant told the HOA.
"They never put a window pane in," Katz said.
Katz said the association spent about $40,000 to fix the first house.
"It gave us all the evidence of the problem," he said. "So, we paid to fix it. But, we don't have millions to fix all of the houses."
Katz says his own home now has the same issues. He bought his townhouse for $225,000 when similar homes in the area were selling for about $300,000.
"I was lucky at the time," he said. "Now, my house isn't worth anything close to that, and it has mold and mildew behind the walls."
Others in Bexley Park began to realize they, too, had the same problem.
For Dary Hasselman and his wife Wendy, it started with a strange odor that wouldn't go away.
He called the HOA, and they were put on a list of homes that would be inspected by Horton.
"[Horton] sent out a big group of people who checked around the window sill, took some notes and we never heard back from them again," Hasselman said. "Nothing has been resolved."
Katz said he immediately filed a faulty-construction claim in Palm Beach County Circuit Court. A judge ruled the HOA was not responsible for the internal damages. Good news for the HOA, but bad news for homeowners now on the hook for the pricey repairs.
Since the city was behind the affordable housing project, some city officials feel responsible for the issue, even though the project's homes passed all city inspections.
In a recent City Commission meeting, Mayor Cary Glickstein said this project has been troubling him since the day he took office.
He wrote a letter to the developer in April requesting a meeting to discuss the mold and rotting wood in the homes.
The meeting was never scheduled. An attorney representing D.R. Horton wrote back that they could not discuss the allegations while the HOA's initial claim was pending.
Just a few weeks ago, another attempt to meet was made by Katz and Glickstein.
They received an email back from attorney Mark Stempler that read: "D.R. Horton does not agree to use a public official as a mediator in any such dispute, should mediation occur."
"This is negligence," Glickstein said about the ailing homes. "There has got to be something more we can do. To require people to bring individual lawsuits against this company is very problematic."
Katz said he doesn't want to go to court. He just wants the developer to fix the problem.
"We don't want a dime," he said. "Just come in and make the repairs."