NORTH LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — It's that excitement of moving into a brand new home.
For Theresa Sanchez, "It was my first home, second marriage. I thought everything would be nice moving in."
At least, it should be.
First-time homebuyer Lorie Williams recalls, "I was happy... at first."
The Sanchez, Williams and Jones families are among the many who watched and anxiously waited as the walls went up on their Beazer homes in the Colton Ranch neighborhood in North Las Vegas.
Then, that sinking feeling set in.
"I don't know what to do," said homeowner Arthur Jones. "I'm just lost. I haven't even been living here for two years yet. Every room in this house has separation. I don't even know if it's safe to stand here."
Already there are cracks in the floors, walls separating from ceilings, kitchen cabinets falling down and more.
"It's the support beams sinking! So, it's coming down... Ripping... And it's everywhere!" Pointing to a spot at the kitchen table, he added, "My son, he used to sit right here and eat his cereal but plaster used to fall down into his food!"
Hardly the new home Arthur's family expected when they plunked down $320,000.
"And I was very disappointed. I was! I don't even have any words because I get emotional when I sit there and say plaster was falling in my baby's food. That's my youngest. I ain't with all that!"
Neither is his neighbor, Theresa Sanchez, who said, "I have four small children and it's just been a nightmare! My plumbing's been bad, I had sinkholes, I had drywall coming apart."
"Do you feel like you bought a lemon or the whole neighborhood is a lemon?" Darcy Spears asked.
"The whole neighborhood is a lemon. The whole entire neighborhood is a lemon," Jones said.
There are approximately 45 homes in Colton Ranch. 13 Investigates interviewed and collected pictures from seven homeowners. Most of them bought their new Beazer homes in 2019.
"We chose Beazer. We trusted them. And we thought we were getting a good quality home for what we were paying for it. But it's not," said first-time homebuyer Lorie Williams, whose family moved into their home in May 2019.
One month later, "Had a sewer back-up that flooded the first floor. The water started flowing out of the toilet down here like a fire hydrant."
In a letter Williams shared with 13 Investigates, Beazer blamed a landscaping contractor for damaging the underground sewer pipe, and a plumbing contractor for failing to confirm pipes were properly installed and cleared of debris.
The letter says, "Beazer is taking the necessary steps to ensure that these subcontractors are held responsible for their conduct at your home. Beazer does not cut corners in its construction of homes or avoid its responsibility to its homeowners."
But Lorie believes the buck stops with Beazer because the sewage back-up was just the beginning.
Since they moved in, her family and others have been living off and on with portions of their home walled off by plastic tarps as Beazer's crews come in to fix cracks over and over again.
"They're just coming in, putting a Band-Aid on it and they leave, but I keep calling them every three to four months to come back, like, I got the cracks again, come fix it. And now the stucco is separating outside from my windows and my sliding glass door," Williams said.
One neighbor got frustrated enough to record a meeting with Beazer Customer Care Representative Greg Ricks.
On the recording, Ricks tells homeowners, "It is what it is, you know? And we'll just react to it. If it happens again, just call me and I'll get them out here again. I know it's a huge inconvenience with the plastic and everything. At least you can cook some meals and stuff in here."
We asked Ricks for an official comment. Through the corporate office, Beazer declined any form of an interview for this story and instead sent the following statement:
"Beazer Homes is committed to providing an industry-leading customer service experience through the purchasing, construction, and warranty processes. In furtherance of the commitments, we have been and continue to be actively engaged with any homeowners in this community that have made claims to Beazer Homes under our warranty to ensure that we are fully satisfying our obligations to our homeowners."
Lorie Williams is far from satisfied.
"We're not getting a solution to the problem."
She showed us where cracks have been caulked time and again, and repeat applications of drywall mud have caused lumps in her walls and ceiling.
"My husband and I were told that it's normal house settling but we know it's not."
"You shouldn't have this going on. You just shouldn't have it going on," said UNLV Professor Neil Opfer, a construction management expert in the College of Engineering. About 10 years ago, he worked on a couple of cases against Beazer involving construction defects and safety. He's also consulted for a number of other home-builders.
"Normally, you're going to expect cracking," Opfer explained. "Concrete, drywall, stucco is going to crack. But when you continue to have those types of problems that you're talking about when they come in and you just see layers and layers of drywall mud over this significant cracking, that's really problematic."
Theresa Sanchez's walls also bear evidence of Beazer's repeat visits to cover up cracks that keep coming back.
"They've been here four times for that," she said, pointing to one area in particular. Something's wrong. Something's wrong in the bottom."
By 'bottom' she means underneath the house in the soil her home's foundation was built on.
"The area in North Las Vegas has a history of lots and lots of soil issues," said Opfer.
We learned Colton Ranch is no exception.
So, what's going on underground and what did Beazer know before they built it?
We dug deep for answers and uncovered major issues homeowners say were never disclosed.
We discovered documents suggesting corners may have been cut in developing homes on land not initially suitable to support them.
The soil under the Colton Ranch homes is called into question in a report 13 Investigates obtained that's on file with North Las Vegas Public Works.
In April 2018, before Beazer started building, they hired Southwest Geotechnical. The company's soil tests revealed "Moderate to critically expansive soils."
One of the critical boring sites was on Midnight Shadows Way, where the Williams and Jones families live.
"What will happen with those types of soils is that in the presence of water, they will expand and lift up and affect your house foundation differently depending on the amount of water in a certain area," Opfer explained.
Southwest Geotechnical found "The site also has a potential for chemical heave." Opfer says that means salts in the soil will also soak up water, "And they'll swell up," causing a kind of double whammy of foundation issues for the homes built on that soil.
"And of course, obviously, this is never anything that they throw in the sales literature," Opfer said.
The only thing we could find that even came close was a mention in a homeowner's manual advising them to keep water away from the foundation and avoid landscaping close to the home.
"Was any of that in the documentation--the soils report or an explanation of the kind of ground your home is built on?" Darcy Spears asked Lorie Williams.
"No. Not at all," Williams responded. "Because if it was, we wouldn't have purchased."
Southwest Geotechnical told Beazer the site was "Acceptable for development as long as all of the recommendations presented within this report are followed."
Those recommendations included lots of extra work in excavating, grading, processing, testing and capping the soil.
"And then the $64,000 question is always that, where your homes were built, were they built in accordance with the soils report?" wondered Opfer.
Even if they were, Southwest Geotechnical warned the site would continue to be problematic. The report says "Structures like sidewalks, patios, block and retaining walls and driveways" would be susceptible to damage.
"All my pavers are cracked," said Arthur Jones. "And even up the driveway, you can see all the separation. They're sliding down. This driveway is dipped! It's not supposed to be like that!"
City of North Las Vegas records shows Beazer Homes has been required to make multiple fixes to the relatively new sidewalks and streets in Colton Ranch.
One punch list was issued Oct. 8, 2020, with more issues needing repair in May and June of this year.
North Las Vegas Public Works noted deterioration and damage including numerous lifted and cracked sidewalks and curbs on Lorie and Arthur's street and four others.
"All this is cracking and falling apart," Jones said, gesturing to his driveway and the front of his home. "But the worst is on the inside."
Southwest Geotechnical warned Beazer about that too, writing that even if all their recommendations were followed, problems could be "Mitigated but not completely eliminated" and that "The developer must be willing to accept these associated risks and requirements if developing this site."
The report details, "Damages may include wall or slab lifting; cracking of foundations, masonry block, sheetrock and stucco; and doors jamming."
"They fixed this door three times and it keeps getting lopsided," Lorie said about the door to her son's room. "I had to come in here and kick the door in to get my son out because he was stuck in here. The door was stuck."
So why would Beazer choose to develop on soil like this, and did they follow all of Southwest Geotech's critical recommendations?
When we asked, Beazer didn't answer.
Per their request, we sent a long and detailed list of questions. Their only response was to provide the statement we shared earlier in this story.
"Personally, I'm like, are you trying to wait until my warranty runs out?" mused Arthur Jones.
He and his neighbors worry Beazer will just keep doing surface fixes and homeowners will eventually be left holding the bag.
"We gotta disclose this when we sell our house," said Lorie Williams. "It's gonna lose the value."
In that recorded meeting with Beazer Customer Care Representative Greg Ricks, some spoke of selling their home to get away from the hassle.
"It is what it is," Ricks said on the recording. "You guys have a beautiful home here. I don't think you're going to have a problem selling it. The trusses moving up and down--that's structural stuff. And the bad part about it is the structure is fine, it's just there's movement and the drywall is being affected. That's what you see. So, you know, we go to six years on those. There are some communities in Henderson that have this kind of an issue and we've been doing them... This is our fourth year."
"That's telling me that what they're doing is not really solving the problem," Opfer said after hearing the recording. "It's taking care of a symptom of the problem but it's not solving the problem."
"I feel that we've been treated unfairly," said Arthur Jones. "I feel that we've been swindled out of our money. And I feel that Beazer should be liable for everything that happens over here, especially the permanent repairs of the homes and not just the temporary cosmetic fixes."
Nevada law requires homeowners who identify issues to give their builders the chance to review and correct them.
Lorie Williams has multiple reports from inspectors who've been in her home numerous times documenting cracks and lumps, excessive moisture, improper drainage, uneven walls, and many other issues that the reports say do "Not conform to building standards and practices in effect at the time of construction or installation."
Beazer agreed to fix most of it but Lorie finally got fed up with the interruptions in her family's life.
"I can't enjoy my house because they keep coming in."
After she complained to the Nevada State Contractors Board and mentioned a possible construction defect lawsuit, Beazer began bargaining.
"And I got offered money three times," which she rejected, including a $10,000 offer.
As outlined in a February 10, 2021, letter, the offer went up to $15,000 instead of any further work. In return, Lorie would have to sign a waiver and agree to release and dismiss "Any complaints, whether filed or pending with any court, administrative agency or the Contractors Board."
"And I declined it because I know I have a bigger issue than $15,000 in my home." Lorie said. "If they're offering me money to shut up and go away and let them walk away from this problem with my house, I know something is wrong."
Neil Opfer calls that the SNARL principle, "Save Now And Repay Later. So, they're offering, for example, $10-15,000 for a homeowner to just go away," leaving the homeowner to address any ongoing issues. "If this is something that keeps going on and you're going to have to spend $30-40,000 to have a contractor come in and put a cut-off wall around your house to stop the problems, $10-15,000 obviously isn't near enough."
The Colton Ranch homeowners have not sued Beazer, but the developer has been the subject of numerous lawsuits in Clark County and across the country.
One that stands out from April 2000 was filed by a group of Las Vegas homeowners. It alleged constructional defects including claims that their house foundations and concrete slabs were damaged by expansive soils.
The jury found Beazer had been negligent and had misrepresented material facts, returning a $7.8 million verdict for the homeowners.
Beazer appealed and got the judgment thrown out by the Nevada Supreme Court on a legal technicality--improper classification of the case as a class action.
That left the homeowners to start from scratch if they wanted to pursue individual cases.