|ORLANDO, FL -- An arbitrator has certified a class action against national homebuilder Ryland Homes, including approximately 6,000 homes Ryland built across Florida since January 2000, for plaintiffs who claim serious leakage issues during summer storms.
Estimates to fix the leaks are expensive and Ryland's efforts to address the leakage problems are unsatisfactory, the plaintiffs say.
The plaintiffs allege houses Ryland built won't keep water out during rainstorms, although often there is no apparent source for the leaks. Water simply appears on the baseboards of exterior walls.
William Drier, a retired appellate judge form New Jersey, is the arbitrator who certified the class action earlier this week in Orlando, FL. Drier heard five days of live testimony and arguments, reviewed more than 30 volumes of documentary evidence and received hundreds of pages of legal briefs.
Drier's findings soon will be posted on the Internet at www.adr.org/sp.asp?id=26611
California-based Ryland, which has built houses in many states since 1967, has 30 days to challenge the order in Florida state court, but the review is limited to determining if the arbitrator "manifestly disregarded the law or facts" in the case.
More than 70 owners of Ryland-built homes are listed as parties to the case and also say they represent "all others similarly situated."
Various engineers have proposed ways to fix the leaks, the homeowners say. Even the cheapest of those suggested repairs would cost thousands of dollars per house.
More than 100 homeowners complained to Ryland through mid-2004 about leaks during summer storms. During the 2004 hurricane season, the problem reached epic proportions, the homeowners say.
Ryland - which has acknowledged having more complaints than any other builder in the Orlando area - fielded more than 1,000 calls in August and September 2004. Still, many homes continue to leak, despite limited repairs provided by Ryland, the homeowners allege.
The plaintiffs in the arbitration asked Ryland to fix the leaks in their houses in the fall of 2004. When Ryland refused, they hired Frank Rapprich, an Orlando lawyer. Rapprich sent legal demands to Ryland, and the company again refused to fix the leaks.
The case began formally in March 2005, when owners of more than 70 Ryland- built homes filed suit in Orlando. The complaint sought class status.
Ryland responded by pointing out that most of the plaintiffs signed binding arbitration agreements. Those plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed their lawsuit claims and filed identical claims with the American Arbitration Association in June 2005.
The class is represented by Francis X. Rapprich of Fisher, Rushmer, Werrenrath, Dickson, Talley & Dunlap, P.A., of Orlando; Gary W. Jackson of The Jackson Law Group in Charlotte, NC; and William Dixon Robertson III of Columbia, SC. Jackson and Robertson have been granted limited admission to practice in Florida, to represent the class described in the original complaint.