For most people, their biggest financial investment is a house. Home ownership is the very symbol of achieving the American dream.
Action News has uncovered a construction problem threatening to destroy that dream for hundreds in the Delaware Valley.
Troubleshooter Nydia Han is exposing the issue, helping get some homes fixed, and pushing for legislative change.
This construction crisis is devastating homeowners all over the area. They can't sell their homes and they can't afford to fix them.
"How can they let this happen to people? It's completely destroying people's lives," said Tamra Adams of Furlong, Bucks County.
The Adams family is one of many who have said their dream is a decaying dud. They claim water is behind their walls rotting the house from the inside out.
"I feel trapped. I wake up and I feel trapped. It's always there," she said.
It's called water intrusion and experts blame it on shoddy construction.
"This house was not built according to standards and building codes even back then. Absolutely not a question about it," said Rob Lunny of Lunny Building Diagnostics.
Many of the homes afflicted were built during the housing boom between 2003 and 2005. Many are stucco but other materials are vulnerable, too. And for some consumers, the cost of repairs can be upwards of $100,000.
"You should never, ever have to be in a position where you have to take down the entire outside of your house down to the studs and have it redone," Rob Greer of Chester Springs, Chester County.
The allegedly sick homes were built by a wide variety of builders including the region's top name, Toll Brothers.
Toll Brothers estimates its liability for water intrusion at $324.4 million.
But no law specifically requires Toll or other builders to alert homeowners of any possible defects or make repairs.
"Builders will say they have no obligation to issue such recall because they will tell you that a house, unlike a defective car seat, is not a product," said the Adams' construction attorney Jennifer Horn.
The company has agreed to fully fix more than a dozen homes the Troubleshooters brought to the company's attention. They've even offered third-party oversight of the repairs and a 5-year warranty. But a long list of other homeowners, including the Adams, say they are not getting that same treatment.
"And I can't understand why they can't help. They won't help," Adams said.
After the Troubleshooters got involved, Toll did re-do the area nearest Jackson Adam's bedroom but the family still has it sealed off because of continuing concerns of mold. And while Toll said recent testing showed the home is safe, the Adams insist elevated moisture readings indicate the entire house needs to be remediated.
"It's not fixed. That was just a band-aid on the wound and the wound is the entire house," she said.
Homeowners face a tough battle. A weapon builder's use is the age of the home. The Pennsylvania Statute of Repose states homeowners must file claims against builders within 12 to 14 years of construction. But homeowners often don't know their house needs fixing until that deadline has passed.
The good news is that legislative change may be on the horizon. The Troubleshooters alerted lawmakers to the problem and five state representatives and one state senator have promised to protect homeowners in a variety of ways. They are Sen. Andy Dinniman (D) District 19, Rep. Matthew Bradford (D) District 70, Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown (D) District 190, Rep. John Galloway (D) District 140, Rep. Duane Milne (R) District 167 and Rep. Eric Roe (R) District 158.
Representatives Galloway and Roe are reaching across the political aisle to get it done.
"Together, we're going to introduce a bill that will extend the statute of repose in Pennsylvania from 12 to 14 years to 20 years, which would allow homeowners more time to catch these problems," said Rep. Roe. Sen. Dinniman tells the Troubleshooters he will introduce and fight for similar legislation in the Pennsylvania Senate.
Rep. Milne promises to introduce a bill to help people who are not a home's original owners.
"If future homeowners can be protected from this, oh my gosh, I would never wish this on anyone," Adams said.
Right now anyone can claim to be a moisture penetration inspector, someone who checks for this kind of construction problem. There are also no required certifications for a mold remediator, the kind of contractor who claims to fix the issue. So both Sen. Dinniman and Rep. Milne also believe the state should take action so that both industries have some sort of oversight and regulation or guidelines.
Now if you suspect water intrusion:
-Get a free consultation with a qualified construction attorney who can explain time limitations and meeting deadlines.
-Also hire an experienced, reputable moisture penetration inspector that is independent and objective.
When hiring a moisture penetration inspector:
-Never hire a company that offers to detect damage and repair it. An inspector should not also act as a contractor or even be affiliated with a contractor or mold remediator. In fact, an inspection report shouldn't indicate where repairs need to be made that should be determined by a separate expert.
-Be sure to check an inspector's certifications, they should hold an ASHI (American Society of Home Inspectors)
as well as an EDI (Exterior Design Institute)
or a MWC (Moisture Warranty Corporation).
-Make sure to get probe testing done, don't rely solely on infrared testing.
-Also be sure to ask them about their construction background and water intrusion experience.
Questions you should ask potential inspectors:
-Will they provide specific readings for each side of the home?
-Do they test all materials including siding, stucco, and cultured stone?
-Does the inspector evaluate for code compliance during inspection? (i.e. minimum thickness, proper lath embedment, proper fastener installation)
-Does inspection include critical interior areas? (attic, under carpeting, basement)
-May I see previous reports? (Make sure these reports are clear and easy to understand)
Questions you should ask when hiring a construction attorney:
-How many of these cases have you successfully negotiated and handled?
-Are you a construction specialist?
Toll Brothers Statement regarding the Adams' home:
"As you know, the Adams family previously alleged that there was mold in their home, and they provided Toll a recommendation from their own expert to correct water intrusion sources relating to the chimney. Before starting those requested repairs, we had the Adams' home inspected by a certified industrial hygienist, who confirmed normal fungal ecology conditions throughout the home. After Toll Brothers repaired the home, the certified industrial hygienist returned and conducted a second round of testing and again confirmed that the conditions were normal. The repairs and testing confirm that there is no mold damage inside of the Adams' home and the air tests confirm that the home is safe for occupancy. In light of this information, we cannot speak to the Adams' decision to not use the room."