Builders, homeowners await drywall fix specifics
Published: March 29, 2010
Tags: Chinese drywall, Home Builders Association, homebuilder, Knauf, Louisiana, Louisiana Recovery Authority, Orleans Civil District Court, Southern Homes, U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission
By Greg LaRose
Dolan Media Newswires
New Orleans — Slidell homebuilder Chris Kornman says his business is in limbo while one trial against a manufacturer of tainted drywall unfolds in federal court and several others, including one in which his company is a defendant, wait in the wings.
“It’s very frustrating for us, and we realize it’s very frustrating for homeowners,” he said.
Kornman is president of Southern Homes, one of 23 defendants listed in Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s complaint in Orleans Civil District Court on behalf of Louisiana homeowners seeking relief for damages from Chinese-made drywall.
Gases emitted from the gypsum material are being blamed for corroding metal pipes and plumbing, damaging air conditioning systems and causing health problems.
How Caldwell’s case moves forward depends on the outcome of what’s being called the bellwether case unfolding in U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon’s New Orleans courtroom. He will determine if Tatum and Charlene Hernandez, homeowners from Mandeville, can recoup damages from Knauf, a German building materials company that owns drywall plants in China.
With a per-square-foot dollar value determined, cases involving more than 2,100 families with claims pending before Fallon’s court could move forward. When, however, is unknown.
The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission has received more than 3,000 complaints about Chinese drywall from people in 37 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.
Christina Stephens, Louisiana Recovery Authority communications director, said the Legislature has set aside $5 million for Road Home housing recovery program recipients to help pay for drywall problems. Separate programs may be tapped for rebuilding and rental assistance, but there is no pool of unspent federal money from the 2005 hurricanes that can be used to help pay for widespread drywall problems in state, she said.
“There’s this idea that there’s $3 billion in (federal) money available,” Stephens said. “It’s not spent, but it is allocated.”
Stephens said the LRA will wait on federal remediation testing results before deciding how to allocate its drywall money. Consumer Products Safety Commission officials have said the commission’s recommendations should come out within four weeks.
In the Hernandez case, Knauf officials suggested compensation for tainted drywall in the $55-per-square-foot range, while plaintiff claims have reached $118. With the standard drywall sheet measuring 48 square feet, it would place remediation costs between $2,600 and $5,700 per sheet.
LaPlace-based homebuilder Phil Hoffman, former president of the local and state Home Builders Association, said the $55 figure is “really a very, very generous number.”
Explaining that the average 1,500-square-foot home calls for roughly 140 sheets of drywall, Hoffman said the $55 rip-and-replace value more than covers the drywall and labor costs as well as any plumbing or electrical work deemed necessary.
“If someone came to my house and offered to replace my drywall at $100 a square foot,” he said. “I’d chase them down the street.”