Suit says $315,000 home turned into a nightmare

April 17, 1994|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,Sun Staff Writer

When Neal and Brenda Katz moved into their new house in Laurel in November 1989, they thought they had found their dream home -- cathedral ceilings, hardwood and ceramic tile floors, a whirlpool tub in the master bathroom and name-brand appliances.

But the first week, they say, one-third of the shingles blew off the roof. The house's electrical system short-circuited a brand new compact disc player, a VCR and eight light bulbs the same day, they say. And there's the shock Ms. Katz says she got last month when she turned on a light switch; the shock blew the light and the dimmer.

"There have been times we've looked at each other and wondered what might have been buried here," said Ms. Katz, who, with her husband, paid $315,000 for their home.

They don't blame their problems on poltergeists, claiming, instead, shoddy construction.

On May 2, Neal and Brenda Katz are scheduled to argue their case before Howard County Circuit Court Judge James Dudley. A pretrial settlement conference is scheduled for tomorrow.

The Katzes have filed a $315,000 suit, accusing Columbia-based Trafalgar House Property Inc. of negligent design, negligent construction, breach of contract and negligent repair, and accusing the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. of failing to repair electrical lines that service their home.

The Katzes' suit is joined by one filed by their neighbors, Michael and Nancy Casey, who accuse Trafalgar of delivering them a home with defects, the worst of which are rust stains that run down the front of the house's light gray-colored brick front. The Caseys are seeking $50,000 in damages.

That case has not been scheduled.

"We think these cases are totally unfounded," said Cynthia M. Hahn, an attorney representing Trafalgar. "We're very confident we can prevail."

Ms. Hahn said that repairs have been made to the Katzes' house and that Trafalgar has since had engineering, architectural and electrical experts review the home. It shows no sign of any problems, she said.

"The expectations and demands in this case have been wholly unrealistic," she said. "The amount of response and attention that has been given to this house has been an enormous !B amount."

Charles J. Franklin, a spokesman for BGE, said the utility had no comment because the case is still in litigation.

Ms. Hahn also said that Trafalgar has mailed a letter each month since November to the Caseys' attorney offering to investigate the rust stains at their house, but their attorney has not replied.

"We've offered to the Caseys to have our experts come and look at [the rust stains]," said David L. Carney, president of Trafalgar House Residential Maryland. "They haven't responded."

Michael Casey said Trafalgar once tried to repair the problem, and now he wants to have his own experts fix it. Trafalgar "cleaned it once and it all came back," he said. "They never said they had a problem with doing anything. They just never performed."

The Katzes' and Caseys' homes are in the Hunter's Creek development in Laurel, which was built less than five years ago. The couples are not the only ones who cite problems with their homes.

In the 112-house development, where prices start at $280,000, some other homeowners complain about water leaks that stain ceilings, rain water soaking the inside of their houses through fireplaces and wood and drywall deteriorating.

Since 1991, the Howard County Department of Consumer Affairs has received eight complaints about Trafalgar homes at more than one Howard County development. Howard County inspections and enforcement received two complaints about homes in the Hunter's Creek development within the last year. Three lawsuits, including the Katzes' and Caseys', have been filed since 1991.

The third case was settled out of court last fall, after Trafalgar agreed to repair a crack in the foundation wall of a Dorsey town home that caused flooding when it rained.

Homeowners in another Trafalgar development, Northridge, which has 68 town homes with prices starting at $160,000 in the Bowie area of Prince George's County, have voiced similar complaints to their city and county council members recently, prompting a meeting with company and local government officials two months ago.

But others defend Trafalgar, including Hunter's Creek homeowner David Horvath and Tom Matzen, supervisor of quality control for construction standards in Prince George's County. Mr. Matzen has inspectors walking through the homes in the Northridge development to look at the alleged problems.

"We're not finding a lot of leakage," he said. "Trafalgar doesn't pop up into my mind as a problem contractor."

Mr. Horvath, a four-year Hunter's Creek resident, said he loves his home and found Trafalgar responsive to the "minor" problems he had when he first moved into his house.

"The only thing that possibly could have been done better was painting," Mr. Horvath said. "I find the house totally enjoyable."

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