Archive for Friday, November 6, 2009

Lawsuits mount over drywall concerns

November 6, 2009

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Q: We purchased a newly built home last year. Soon after we moved in, we and our two kids started noticing a weird “rotten-egg” smell that gave us constant headaches and sometimes made us vomit. The situation is still the same, 17 months later. We hired two different mold experts, and also called out a technician from the gas company, but they found no problems. What could it be?

A: I am not a doctor, nor an expert in home construction. But if your health problems are not caused by mold or leaking gas, the culprit may be the walls of your home.

A growing number of homeowners nationwide are suffering similar maladies, which they blame on drywall imported from China when the housing market was booming. Millions of large sheets of imported gypsum are believed to have been contaminated with sulfur compounds that can cause a variety of illnesses.

More than 300 lawsuits have been filed by homeowners in Louisiana alone, and a Federal District Court judge there will begin hearing testimony in a consolidated class-action suit early next year.

In addition, many homeowners claim the drywall makes appliances and other metal objects in their homes corrode quickly. It can lead to dangerous situations stemming from corroded wiring around the house and frequent failures of copper piping in air-conditioning units.

The U.S. government has banned all imports of Chinese drywall, and the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission is working to develop a preferred method for homeowners to deal with the problems. But drywall typically runs throughout the entire house, and can’t be easily removed and replaced.

The CPSC suggests you consult a physician, and contact state and local authorities to report the problems. If you also have concerns about potential electrical and fire-safety issues, the agency says you should contact your electric or gas supplier and a licensed electrician or building inspector. You also should consider reporting to your insurer and home builder, and file a report at www.cpsc.gov/cgibin/drywall.aspx.

Q: I am a first-time landlord. My tenant, who gave me a $500 security deposit when he moved in a year ago, left behind $1,250 in damages when he moved out last month. Can I sue the tenant for the $750 difference in small-claims court?

A: Landlords in most areas can sue if damage caused by a tenant exceeds the amount of the security deposit he provided when he first moved in. Call your rent board or apartment owners’ association for more information.

Q: I am a single mother, and I have been searching for a new mortgage to finance the purchase of a small condo for me and my kids. One loan representative asked me three times how many children I have, and wanted to know details of the custody arrangement I have with my ex-husband. I did not get the loan, and I think it’s because I refused to give him the information. Isn’t this type of personal questioning illegal? Can I sue the bank for discrimination?

A: You could file a discrimination lawsuit, but it’s doubtful that you would win.

The federal Equal Credit Opportunity Act prohibits lenders from considering an applicant’s race, color, national origin, sex, marital status, age or religion when making a loan decision. It also prevents discriminating against an applicant because part of the borrower’s income may come from a welfare agency or other type of public assistance.

The act also bars a lender from asking about a borrower’s future childbearing plans. But it’s OK to ask how many children they have, because the cost of raising the kids could affect the borrower’s ability to repay the mortgage — especially if the children are attending a pricey private school or are involved in expensive after-school programs.

Similarly, details of the custody arrangement you have with your former spouse — as well as any child-support payments or alimony you receive — could affect your chances of gaining loan approval. You’ll look better if your spouse shares the child-rearing expenses and sends you a hefty alimony check each month to boot. But if you’re getting little or no financial help from your ex, don’t expect to get any bonus points when the banker reviews your mortgage application.

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