September 13, 2006 - Homebuilders in Marana will face more scrutiny when installing tile roofs partly due to recent allegations against Richmond American Homes and a local roofing company.
About 50 Continental Ranch residents last month showed their disgust at a town council meeting for the billion-dollar homebuilder and Headlee Roofing Co., which operates out of Phoenix and Tucson. One by one, the residents described leaks, rotted wood, ceiling stains and mold and fungus growing inside their homes. Some asked the town to ban Richmond American from building in Marana.
While the town legally cannot prohibit a qualified applicant from building in its jurisdiction, officials will intensify inspections of tile roofs, according to a recent interoffice memo.
"No one really does roof inspections," Marana Building Official Jack Holden said. "That's changing now."
Like those throughout the region, Marana's inspectors never walk on a tile roof. The town would face liability should a tile crack, Holden said.
Inspectors simply look at a completed roof from the ground. The cursory check leaves the most serious defects undiscovered.
The town plans to randomly inspect tile roofs as work progresses, from the time workers install weather-proof sheathing until completion. This includes on-roof inspections while workers lay tile.
"It's too darn late" to inspect a tile roof after completion, Holden said.
The target of numerous recent citizen complaints and allegations, Richmond American refused to comment for this story.
The most intense allegations come from two parcels - eight and nine - in Continental Ranch, a several-thousand- home residential development just west of Interstate 10 and north of Cortaro Road.
Residents claim Headlee Roofing violated construction codes when installing tile roofs on dozens of homes in those parcels. The resulting defects caused leaks and even the partial collapse of one roof, residents allege.
The roofing company's vice president disagrees.
"Headlee Roofing did what we were contracted to do," said Martin Headlee, whose company has roofed more than 1,000 houses in Continental Ranch. "Both Richmond American and the town of Marana accepted the work. (Residents) can defame my name all over the country, but the bottom line is that when they moved in, they were satisfied with their roof."
Richmond American built most of the affected houses in 1994 and 1997, putting them past all warranties. The builder denied any wrongdoing and refused to do repairs, citing the lack of homeowner maintenance as the cause for any problems, according to letters Richmond American sent to town officials and Continental Ranch residents.
The angry customers tried to "coerce" the builder into making roof repairs, according to a letter Richmond American's attorney sent to Marana Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat on Aug. 14, the same day dozens of frustrated homeowners crammed the town council chambers.
Richmond American's Tucson Division President Michael Parker resigned the day of the council meeting. Neither Richmond American nor any one else will say why Parker abruptly quit. The EXPLORER has been unable to reach Parker for comment.
Several homeowners alleged that Headlee Roofing crews stretched tiles. Rick Herrier, who lives in parcel eight on West Rifle Way, counted the tiles on his and his neighbor's identical homes. His neighbor had more tiles, Herrier said.
Charles Miller also saw evidence of the money-saving practice when homeowners paid him to inspect their roofs, the Phoenix-based roof consultant said.
Headlee denied the accusations.
"We used the same technique done in other subdivisions," he said. "I'm really sorry they don't like their house, but we didn't shrink or fudge on any materials."
Of the 125 homes in the two parcels, about 40 complained about roof problems, Headlee noted, adding that "less than 10 percent (of the affected homes) had any maintenance on them."
His crews installed the roofs according to the existing International Building Code in 1994 and 1997, which since has changed, Headlee said.
"(Residents) don't like that we built them to the minimum and not the maximum," he said.
The frustrated homeowners have organized, calling themselves Neighborhood for Quality Homes. The group now has about 80 homeowners, including a handful from other neighborhoods and one from Dove Mountain in northern Marana, where Continental Ranch resident Ed Lee recently protested Richmond American by wearing only a Speedo and cowboy hat. He held a sign that read "Richmond American Homebuyers Beware."
Lee also picketed at the builder's office on Oracle Road.
The group this month will meet with construction defect lawyer Ritchie Lipscomb, whose firm has won million-dollar settlements against several developers.
The law firm has sued Headlee Roofing Co. several times, Lipscomb said, though he refused to discuss details of the cases or settlement amounts.
"We're a fairly large contractor," said Headlee, whose company re-roofed two houses in Continental Ranch. "People sue us to get money out of us."
Lipscomb probably cannot help Continental Ranch residents with houses in parcels eight and nine, which means little to no recourse for the majority of complaining homeowners. The state legislature's "statute of repose" bars lawsuits brought after eight years of a building's completion.
But Continental Ranch residents with younger homes "we may be able to help," Lipscomb said.
The neighborhood group includes only a handful of people with homes built less than eight years ago, the group's spokesman Ross Iwamoto said. After failed settlement talks with Richmond American, he and almost a dozen other residents paid between $10,000 and $15,000 for new roofs.
"If code was violated in the first place, why is there a statute of limitations?" Iwamoto wondered.
Iwamoto's group continues to circulate a petition, which asks Marana officials to ban Richmond American from building in town limits. The group also has won the attention of out-of-staters, including Robin Vircisk, a Las Vegas resident who started a homeowner advocate group after a "nightmare" experience with Richmond American.
Vircisk bought a home from the builder two years ago. During construction, someone broke a door and two windows. Vircisk continually found urine in her unfinished home. When she tried to cancel her purchase, Richmond American confronted her with "excessive cancellation fees," she said.
So she moved into the house, where urine oozed from the walls when the indoor temperature rose.
"I am willing to travel to Tucson to speak with government officials regarding Richmond American," said Vircisk, who owns the Internet domain name RichmondAmericanDestroysDreams.com.
The builder should reimburse residents for roof work and make any additional repairs before building again in Tucson, Vircisk said.
The Continental Ranch group also contacted Chuck Osterman, a retired roof consultant and Northwest resident. Like Miller before him, Osterman has looked at the roofs and completed a report, citing dozens of defects and violations.
"It's the easiest thing in the world to put a roof on but the fastest way to screw a customer," the 70-year-old said, adding that southern Arizona's scarcity of rainfall keeps latent defects undercover for years.
"That's what's sick," he said. "A lot of people didn't even know. You drive through the neighborhood and the roofs look beautiful, but the defects are hidden."
Osterman has worked as a roofer and consultant in Arizona and California. He worked for both plaintiffs and defendants in construction defect cases for years. He retired in 2001.
Osterman soon will complete a book called "Roofs," in which the self-proclaimed expert will "take the gloves off," detailing all the ways a builder can rip off a customer.
"I'm just gonna blow it all open," Osterman said.
The Southern Arizona Home Builders Association even entered the fray after government liason Alex Jacome responded to a letter sent by Iwamoto, who sought SAHBA's support.
Jacome pointed Iwamoto towards the Arizona Registrar of Contractors, another dead-end for the neighborhood group. In the April 20 letter, Jacome wrote that the inspection reports completed by Miller "may not be as factual or as accurate as you have been led to believe." The roof consultant had no license with the Registrar of Contractors or the Arizona Roofing Contractors Association, the SAHBA official wrote.
Miller defended himself, arguing that membership in those organizations constitutes a conflict of interest for a consultant.
Jacome seemed unfamiliar with Osterman, though he has heard some about the retired consultant.
"What I've heard is not good," Jacome said. "It's amazing that these experts have no standing in the community."
The Continental Ranch vs. Richmond American issue boils down to three points, Jacome said.
"Number one - these are old roofs. Two - you have to take care of the roofs. And three - all warranties have expired."
The neighborhood group plans to launch a Web site and continues to hold unscheduled meetings. The group's membership increases as members distribute flyers and hold protests, Iwamoto said.
"And every time it rains, I get more calls."