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Homeowners fined by HOA for defective walls

Posted at 10:46 PM, May 09, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-10 13:33:04-04

Homeowners caught between a rock and a hard place. 

Paying a high price for a problem they didn't cause, but are forced to fix. 

Contact 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears has the story of people trying to make ends meet, while getting hit from all sides.

"It's like digging up a grave and realizing, hey, where's my uncle? He's not in there!"

That's how Eric Drexler describes his experience when he and his contractor starting tearing down his backyard wall.

"These walls are the grave. When we busted down the walls and we saw what was inside the walls and what was connecting it, things were missing."

Eric, Tracy Stevens and Ben Cathey are among six homeowners on the same street who have the same problem.

"Six walls together all the way down?! Come on!" exclaimed Drexler. "Something's wrong here! And we're paying for it!"

Their backyard walls, which border Galleria Drive in Henderson, are falling toward the sidewalk and the heavily traveled street--generating violation notices from the city, mounting fines from their homeowners' association, and stress and aggravation for them.

All for a condition they did not cause.

Think of the wall like a body and the rebar as the bones. 

The way Eric Drexler's wall was built, the bones were floating around inside not connected to anything. So now they have to rebuild the whole thing--connecting the bones to stabilize the body.

"You'd be really hard-pressed to find another analysis other than the walls were not constructed properly," said John Leach, attorney for the Whitney Ranch Homeowners Association. 

He and his colleagues believe a construction defect is to blame for the wonky walls, but say there's little the homeowners can do.

"The problem is that the construction's so old that the statutes have lapsed. When something doesn't manifest itself for this long, the poor homeowner is now a victim of time."

Original owners like Eric Drexler built the side walls between the homes themselves. And those are fine. 

It's the back walls that are falling down. Those were built 26 years ago by a contractor working for American West Development. 

The Whitney Ranch CC&Rs make that portion of the wall the homeowner's responsibility. 

Darcy Spears: How much is this costing you?
Tracy Stevens: $8500
Ben Cathey: That sounds so unreal!

The City of Henderson says the walls passed inspection and were up to code when they were originally built. 

They blame water damage and tree roots for pushing the walls down.

Tracy Stevens: I think it's false.
Ben Cathey: That's what they told you?
Darcy Spears: Yes.
Ben: I don't have either. I have rocks in my backyard.

And Tracy has artificial grass. 

As for the repairs, she says, "I don't have any money. You can't get blood from a turnip."

Making it hard to fund a quick fix.

"I couldn't afford to do the work. I had to take it out of my 401k."

Because of the time it's taking, fines from her HOA keep adding up. 

The total now is $1750.

"All I want from the HOA is for them to leave me alone. I'm fixing this! Take the fines off." 

We took her concerns to the board's attorney.

Darcy Spears: How can the HOA possibly mitigate the hurt from both sides for a homeowner like this?
John Leach: Again, an excellent question. And I can tell you that this association has a history of once a violation is--whether it's the wall or any other violation--once the violation has been remedied, we invite the person to please come back and visit with the board and give them the opportunity to address that very issue you brought up. And can we waive some or all of those fines.

A little hope there to relieve some of the financial pain. 

In 2015, the state legislature shortened the time period for homeowners to bring construction defect claims to six years, regardless of whether they knew or could have known about the problem. 

American West homes said they empathize with the homeowners' plight and had they built the walls themselves--they wouldn't use a statute of limitations to dismiss their responsibility. 

The contractor American West used to do the work no longer exists.