FOX 13 Investigates: Homeowners say builder is sticking them with stucco problems

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When the Cristofaro family moved from Connecticut to Pasco County in 2009, they found a Land O’ Lakes home that seemed like a perfect fit. It was just a few years old, with a backyard pool that overlooks the neighborhood pond.

Like most families, a home purchase is the biggest investment they’ll ever make. "This is our retirement fund,” said Christina Cristofaro. “This is the house we want to make memories in and enjoy ourselves in."

A few years later, however, Cristofaro says she and her husband noticed the first signs of what’s become a growing problem. "There were some spots around the back windows where it was just bubbling up,” she said, pointing to the stucco around the second-floor windows.

Soon, she discovered their home wasn’t the only one showing signs of trouble in the Concord Station neighborhood.

“It’s very noticeable. It doesn’t take much to take drive through the neighborhood and notice the damage,” she said. "I don't think anyone expects to buy this house and get this kind of damage within 10 years."

Lennar Homes, one of the state’s largest homebuilders, built Concord Station. By state statute, builders in Florida are responsible for construction defects for 10 years after the home is built. But the Christofaros, and others in the neighborhood, say the company hasn’t taken responsibility for the stucco problems.

“We thought that we could approach them -- and we have several times -- and thought they'd be more accommodating,” she said.

Lennar Homes, like some other builders, puts an arbitration clause in the deeds of the homes they build. The clause affects consumers shopping for a home, because they can’t see those claims and their outcomes in court records. It also affects homeowners who have purchased a home: If there’s a dispute with Lennar over an alleged defect, they can’t sue the company in open court.

Lennar Homes declined an on-camera interview. The company also declined to answer questions.

The Cristofaros and 50 other families from the neighborhood hired Neil O’Brien, an attorney with Florin Roebig, to represent them in private arbitration. As part of that process, O’Brien has each homeowner hire a licensed structural engineer to do a stucco inspection and document findings of code violations.

LINK: Read examples of engineering reports completed for homeowners by Structural Engineering, Inc. (PDF)

O’Brien says he’s seen commonalities in the reports, including findings of stucco that’s less than the thickness required by Florida Building Code standards and control joints that are not installed properly.

"Those issues cause the stucco, ultimately, to fail,” he said.

In a statement emailed to FOX  13 from a public relations firm, Lennar Homes said, "If a Lennar home fails to meet the quality standards we promised our customers in their warranty, we will make appropriate repairs.” The company would not say whether they have made any repairs for homeowners in Concord.

O’Brien showed FOX 13 one of the homes involved in the private arbitration, in which the homeowner sealed cracks to try to prevent moisture from entering the home. The result is a patchwork puzzle of white sealant on beige stucco. He says the homeowner faces an estimated cost of $50,000 to $70,000 to have the stucco repaired and replaced. 

Cristofaro said their home inspection, completed when the home was just three years old, didn’t detect the stucco issues. Now she worries that the cracks will cause further problems from water damage. "I worry that we're going to have water damage…that we're looking at a money pit."

Until the problem is resolved, she says she faces an uncertain future.

"As homeowners, we've invested our life savings into our house,” she said. "We really just want it fixed.”