LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — It doesn't seem like a fair fight: new homeowners in a defective house… forced to take on a big-time builder with deep pockets.
They got a settlement, but don't feel like they won.
So now they're sharing their story as a warning to others.
Take a tour of James Munoz's new house and you might find more wrong than right.
It was supposed to be a dream home, built brand new. But very little of what he got was part of that dream.
"I have anything but quality," Munoz said of his family's new home in Inspirada.
And because of that, he opened his doors to our cameras.
"I feel the public has a right to know what's going on," Munoz said. "If this is happening to me, who else is this happening to?"
He and his partner posted about their home on Facebook and got comments from many others in their Inspirada community who had similar issues with a variety of builders.
"Everything's being thrown up too fast. People are not taking accountability for their actions. They've lost track of building quality products for families and they have just thrown things together to move on to the next project."
"It's pretty much a nationwide problem," said Certified Inspector Bill Loden, former president of the American Society of Home Inspectors.
"The stronger the market is, the more difficult it is to have enough qualified or skilled workmen in the field," Loden said. "We have a shortage."
James says his new home is unfortunately a perfect case in point: big holes, cracked beams... things he says weren't fixed because the builder told him they were not structural issues.
Bill Loden reviewed James' photographs and said those types of things should be replaced.
But he says the problem is, "When everybody is in a hurry they will oftentimes just try to cover it up or go on without taking the time to make necessary repair."
We asked Bill if he would live in a house with the type of lumber used in James' home as the frame.
"Oh, absolutely not," he answered. "You want a house that is structurally adequate."
James says negligence during construction was evident in other areas as well.
"Empty beer cans we found throughout the property. And they found more of the same beer cans underneath our stairs when they opened up the walls."
They found chicken bones too!
"It can be a health concern if some type of organic material is left in the wall--that is definitely a potential for bringing in insects and rodents," said Loden.
The Munoz family moved in last August and the builder had to tear into walls just three months later, in November, because black mold began creeping up walls and corroding carpets.
"Was it toxic mold? What kind of mold was it? And I asked the builder what kind of mold and they won't answer me," said James.
The mold first surfaced in the downstairs entry coat closet. The closet rack was drilled into the wall and into a drain pipe that caused water to leak and ultimately mold to grow.
The leaking sewage water also affected the closet under the stairs.
"I bought a new home thinking I would never have to deal with something like that," said James. "I understand things can happen but this is more than unacceptable in my opinion because somebody was negligent."
His immediate concern was for his family's health.
"I have six small children. I am a foster parent. And so of course I was worried."
The builder did some repair work, but James says that, too, was substandard. Something he says the builder acknowledged in an email which says, "It looks like our trades could and should (have) done a better job on the repairs."
Moving wasn't really an option for this family of eight, so James eventually accepted a settlement that includes a non-disclosure agreement. Turns out it's fairly common in disputes like this.
"Some of the larger national builders set aside millions of dollars to handle situations like this--to pay out grievances to try to work a monetary solution rather than actually building the house correctly to begin with," Loden explained.
Because the company made good on its settlement, we've chosen not to name it. Bill Loden cautions: you shouldn't confuse "settlement" with "solution."
"Just because someone accepts a financial settlement doesn't mean that everything has been corrected. It doesn't mean that the new homeowner has been made whole. It just means that he has reached a point where he has to take their settlement or walk away from the house."
As for issues during construction, Loden says another problem is supervision.
"The quality of the construction is going to be largely dependent on how well the supervisor in a particular neighborhood is able to monitor the work, what his skill level is, and whether he can keep up with it."
He says if you're counting on the local city or county building inspector, be careful.
"They don't often have or take the time to do a detailed, thorough inspection. I've seen an inspector drive up and sign off on an inspection out at the street and then drive off without ever actually stepping onto the property."
On top of that, Loden explains that building code is only a minimum standard and if homeowners want security, they should hire an independent inspector who is experienced or who specializes in new construction.
James says he tried to do that, but hit a wall with the builder.
"I was going to have a private inspector come and inspect our home but the inspector told me through my realtor that the stipulations they were putting on him--it was not worth him coming out. They wanted him to up his insurance policies and if he found things, he wasn't to disclose or point the finger back to the builder."
So what's a consumer to do? Loden says level the playing field.
"First thing I would do is have an attorney review my contract--the purchase contract--so you know what your rights are going in. They may also be able to negotiate provisions for more protections."
Also, do your homework and research the builder. Learn who the superintendent is who is supervising the work and find out how closely they are watching their subcontractors.
And, he says word of mouth is key.
"One of the things you might do is go knock on doors and check with the people who have already moved in. See what's going on with them. See if they have any problems."