An Ellicott City professional condominium park is suing a Georgia wood products manufacturer for $1.5 million, claiming the company has knowingly sold defective roofing materials.
The lawsuit, filed in Howard County Circuit Court, alleges that Hoover Treated Wood Productsof Thomson, Ga., has "engaged in a fraudulent marketing campaign" that exaggerated the suitability of its fire-retardant-treated (FRT) plywood roof sheathing.
Although the FRT plywood roofing controversy is one of the knottier problems being addressed by homebuilders nationwide, the lawsuit is the first legal action in Howard County, where as many as 18,000 homes may be affected.
Approximately 1 million housing units nationwide are reportedly affected by the faulty plywood roofing problem. Most of the homes are town houses east of the Mississippi.
Hoover isone of the nation's leading sellers of FRT plywood, which it has been selling since 1955, the suit said.
A local business park, the Ellicott Ridge Professional Park in the 3500 block of Ellicott Mills Drive, installed Hoover FRT plywood in its roofs when the project was built in early 1987, said David F. Albright, a Baltimore attorney representing Ellicott Ridge.
The suit claims that the FRT plywood contains a phosphate chemical that prematurely ages plywood, resulting in"substantial loss of structural strength and integrity."
Unit owners of Ellicott Ridge, where more than 20 businesses have offices, commissioned an architectural study on the condominium project and wereadvised that the roofs are degrading prematurely, the suit said. Theowners plan to replace the roofs.
Hoover spokesman Glen Wilson declined to be interviewed.
Also named in the lawsuit are two construction companies that participated in the Ellicott Ridge project, Miller Lumber Industries of Montrose, Va., and Dyson Construction Co. ofEllicott City.
However, "Hoover is our main target here. They areresponsible for portraying the product with capabilities that it didn't have," Albright said.
The lawsuit alleges that Hoover conducted its own strength reduction tests on its FRT plywood in July 1986 and those studies showed that high heat and humidity caused rapid degradation of the wood.
Since 1987, Hoover has received numerous complaints about installed FRT plywood and has been the subject of over 20lawsuits, the Howard County lawsuit said. The suit also claims that the American Plywood Association has issued various bulletins about the problems associated with FRT plywood.
Under the county buildingcode, builders are required to install some type of fireproofing safeguard in roofing material, said County Consumer Affairs Administrator Steve Hannan.
Hannan said roof deterioration due to the chemicaltreatment has proved to be a nemesis for home builders across the nation. Nearly every major construction company has experienced some type of problem with FRT plywood, which has an often unpredictable effect on the quality of a roof, he said.
Ryland Homes, which has usedthe treated wood in approximately 7,000 of its town houses east of the Mississippi, recently announced that it may cost the company as much as $14 million to replace faulty roofs.
Jack Cooper, the head of the Ellicott Ridge board of directors, refused to comment on the Hoover lawsuit, filed March 26.