Justice – Texas Style
Many of us joined Texas Watch last Thursday, March 15,2007 for Builder Reform day at the capitol in Austin. We passed out information, lemons, and told our stories to anyone who would listen. Many of us wore lemon pins on our lapels. Lemons – signifying the need for lemon laws to protect us from substandard builders of defective housing. Some of us wore these pins because we had been sold lemons, and others had lost our homes through foreclosure because we could not afford the repairs on our new lemon homes.
I was back at the capitol on Monday, March 19,2007 to testify before the state affairs committee. The room was filled to capacity, and people overflowed into the halls.
Many people were there because HUD had contracted to build houses in San Antonio with K&B. Another company named Myrid(?) was thrown in for deflection and confusion. The representative from K&B in San Antonio did not know any of the names with the Myrid Company. K&B, which has less than a sterling reputation, said they built these over 400 low-income houses, to the specs they were given. They had no back doors, and one had already burned down. These houses had unbelievable, limitless, problems and defects.
One poor person after another testified. It was disgusting, and it was pathetic. It was like listening to complaints from third world countries, not the great state of Texas. Women cried as they spoke and begged for help.
One elderly couple, Mr. and Mrs. Bob Egert (see front page, The Weekly Gazette 3/15/07) was having a log cabin built. The builder had taken the logs, and also $65,000 dollars. This elderly couple had the audacity to call their builder in October and demand their money and materials back. In January, they were arrested for threatening the builder by phone and had to get their probation officer to give them a pass to come and testify. These were senior citizens, 4th generation Texans, who had never even had a parking ticket.
Other people came to testify, and told me they were afraid to mention their builders by name – that they had been threatened. They wanted to know if I was going to say Tremont / Stature built my house, and the general partners were: Jorge Casimiro (on the Harris County Housing Authority), Thomas Thibodeau, and Armad Al Banna? I told them that I was, but I could not take the responsibility of what might happen to them. They would have to make that choice for themselves; and if they chose not to identify their builder by name, everyone would understand.
Lobbyists lined the back wall. Representative Senfronia Thompson remarked, something important must be going on; she said that she had never seen such a gathering. I was finally called to testify at 1:30 in the morning. I had been sitting there since 7 PM. It was still going on after 3:30 AM, when I left. The state affairs committee had stated the Deputy Director of the TRCC would be given the last five minutes to wrap up. I could not stomach anymore. Some single mothers had their children with them. There were people in wheelchairs, it was the most awful thing I have ever seen or had to listen too. They brought pictures of their living conditions and Doctors' notes with children who had to go to the doctor every other week with mold-related illnesses, even one with ruptured eardrums. The children of poor people, who could not afford baby-sitters, ran around outside hallways or stood by their parents; some in their mother's arms finally fell asleep. Some children held onto their mother's legs as they spoke. Since it was way past all our bedtimes, many of the little ones naturally whined and cried.
One elderly Houston real estate agent with a walker sat for hours. When her name was finally called, she had been sitting so long she could not get up. Other homeowners had to assist her to the podium.
Hispanics said they were being targeted; one African American got so mad he threw his documents down and was asked to leave. Many left after hours and hours of waiting. Some left because they had to go to work; others, to go home and let sitters go. Many left in disgust after feeling the futility and listening to the builders' representative(s) saying how the prices of houses would have to go up to meet some of our demands, like habitability? We all would have preferred to pay more, rather than be in our present situations. I told the committees there were no boundaries in price of houses or color of skin; the builders we were speaking of, were equal-opportunity crooks.
Some Representatives presented bills proposing lemon laws on houses and more-stringent laws to protect the homebuyers. With the lobbyists and the lawyers in sight, on the phones, and in the offices the next day ... it appears something will make the floor; but it will be so watered down it will probably not be much assistance. So many people are homeless because the law no longer protects them. People are living in conditions that rival only the Favelas in Brazil. Alt = Favelas in Rio de Janeiro – unless our state and federal governments improve consumer protections dramatically, many Americans may be living in similar shanties.
This was my second time to watch the legislature in action. The first time, I thought the injustice was so great... that right would win over might. This year I knew better. We will have to wait two more years before the legislature meets again. How many more families in Texas will be forced to live in deplorable conditions, and how many more will find themselves homeless through no fault of their own?
House Bill 3269 Eiland Representative Craig Eiland proposed a bill that would abolish the TRCC. (In my opinion, and the opinion of thousands of other Texans, this agency should be abolished. But I can assure you, it will not be. TRCC is just red tape, delays, paperwork, a builder-run group of good old boys, and a few that I do not think even understand what is happening.)
HB 2721 Thompson, by Representative Senfronia Thompson. It would require builders to correct defects caused by the builder. If the defects could not be repaired, then the house should be bought back. (Loved her for trying, but this will never happen.)
HB 1686 McClendon, by Representative Ruth Jones McClendon, says those who violated the rules of the TRCC should be held accountable in a court of law. This bill would effectively ban the use of mandatory arbitration. (This bill will also never get to the floor. Mandatory arbitration is too great a vehicle for builders to hide from responsibility and sub-standard construction. Big Builder = Big Money = Power.)
HB 295 Farrar, by Representative Jessica Farrar, would make violations of warranty, a violation of the deceptive trade act… which the TRCC has gutted. (She has my respect for standing up, but in its present form ... just like last session, her bill will go down in flames. Last legislative session her bill HB730 never made it out of committee.)
HB 1038 Ritter Representative Allen Ritter proposed a bill to tighten the rules for people who served on the TRCC commission. He blamed the Federal government, for mandatory arbitration. (But if we study our history, we know it all began right here in Texas and spread through this country faster than air pollution. Mandatory Arbitration is one of the most insidious things that has ever happened to the consumer. It is destroying the middle class. Please read Blocking the Court House Door, available at your local book store. It will tell you who did all this and how it was perpetrated on the public by the government in Texas... spun as a faster, cheaper way to resolve issues and to thwart giant awards and judgments. Superficial journalism runs in the headlines, exclaiming the giant judgments. Journalists fail to mention the award-caps on non-economic damages, exclusions such as medical bills being thrown out, and the challenges of ever collecting any of that "superfluous" award. Case in point: One family won a court-award of one million dollars; they were finally able to collect one-hundred fifty dollars (only $150). A judgment is a piece of useless paper. In order to better serve the public, journalists should follow up and report how much people actually collect from these judgments, not just jump on headlines, then run on to the next story. The media is our only outlet. We need good investigative journalism to bring out the truth and educate the public, before they too fall victim. I know these journalists are out there.)
This is killing the economy. We have a lemon laws for cars. Yet if you buy a lemon house, you have no recourse. We do not even have laws of habitability. Once you sign the papers – if the house becomes uninhabitable, it is just too bad for the homeowner. Many have to declare bankruptcy because they cannot afford the repairs. Our repairs totaled over $150,000 dollars. Our house is still empty after nearly three years. It went into foreclosure. No exotic mortgage, just a 6% fixed; and we could make the payments, just not all the repairs. We couldn't even live in it.
Some of the representatives were nice to the people. Some even asked intelligent questions and seemed to want to understand. They told us they cared; that was why they were sitting up with us all night. But some left. And, if anyone even suggested the buck stopped right there in Austin, "one" on the committee became haughty, defensive; and you were dismissed.
One soldier spoke so eloquently he got a standing ovation. None of the committee did. I do not understand exactly how they listened: some left and returned; others didn't; some talked to others at the same time you were testifying... and some didn't even bother to look at you. It made me feel what I was saying didn't even deserve the courtesy of their attention. I did not feel the majority of them listened, or heard, or cared; they simply went through the motions. It should not matter if we were in their district, or not. This is a Texas problem, not just a single district. This debacle is happening in every city in Texas.
Texas started this demise of the economy and the destruction of the American dream and it should be stopped here. Please pass on any part of what I have documented. It would be appreciated by all of us who testified, as well as the people who couldn't take off Monday and Tuesday and travel to Austin – good people who have to work. Good people who have to now take extra jobs to pay for repairs to their new homes. All of us caught in the death knell of arbitration, and forced into bankruptcy and foreclosure, will be forever in your debt for just making this problem known. Most people do not know they are even governed by arbitration clauses: not only in their homes, but cars, credit cards, cell phones, even some exterminators. We have lost our right to a trial by jury, and the majority of the people in the United States are not aware. It is our job to teach and educate these people, before they are brutally made participants in the atrocity called arbitration. I have been filed on by my builder twice now. It is not cheaper or faster; and the builders can do whatever they like, with complete immunity.
Our lawyers have been sued by my builders for bringing our fraud case to the courts, and they will be in Harris County Court 80th district court on Monday, March 26,2007 at 9 AM. My builders will not sue me because then I would be able to prove all of my allegations, and use their own testimony in other cases, where they used my house as an example when they sued their own roofer. They do not want their dirty laundry aired in public or in front of a jury. They prefer the secrecy of arbitration, hidden behind closed doors. We have nothing to hide. Soon, no lawyers will represent homeowners. They are difficult to find now.
Case #2003-16820: My builder, Jorge Casimiro, speaking of 37 out of 44 houses in my subdivision, Hyde Park Crescent, says under oath in open court records that:
"Project damage includes roofing systems... resulting in water damage, penetration to the interior of the units, the interior units damage includes sheet rock, insulation, wall studding, electrical wiring and boxes, plumbing, A/C ductwork, flooring... both wood and carpet… and interior painting."
He further states he knew all this, plus he had a mold report on one of the other units. When asked if he felt he should have disclosed these facts to us, he said, "Why should I?"
There are laws for the builders and different laws for consumers. I cannot sell my house to you without disclosure, or you can sue me. Yet the builder can; he can hide anything he can get away with, and did. He can lie in arbitration; I thought that was perjury. He can admit fraud and non-disclosure ... and he is above the law. I do not make these accusations lightly. They will not sue me because I am telling the truth. As I see this unfold and the depths of the absolutely criminal activity, the only way we can get any help is for the media to tell our stories and for a congressional hearing to be called. The State of Texas is owned by the builders, and paid-for by one in particular.
As Representative Garnet Coleman said in the Texas Monthly, "only in Texas can you buy your own state agency and regulate yourself."
Tuesday, March 20, 2007 at 9:40, I was at the Texas Supreme Court in Austin. The Texas Supreme Court that had Bob Perry of Perry Homes as their largest contributor – $340,000. The case I went to hear was Perry Homes, et al. v. Robert and Jane Cull. These senior citizens have been tied up in the lower courts and arbitration by Perry Homes for over 10 years. They sat holding hands with their children and grandchildren. The Supreme Court now has... what, 3 months to a year to render a verdict? Can justice be found in Texas? After being at the capitol for a week, I have my doubts. You can view an archived "webcast" of the proceedings here.
Perry Homes, as do the other builders, has legal representation prepared for the task... Bob Perry has even bought his own State agency, The Texas Residential Construction Commission – a state agency, which is just a roadblock for homeowners. Sitting on the TRCC's commission is none other than the head of Bob Perry's legal eagles, John Krugh. The builders' lawyers speak like they have attended the Columbia school of broadcasting and were on the debate team at Harvard. If I hadn't known better, I would have believed the spin they put on everything. It was / is a great example of the haves and the have-nots.
In Houston, our mayor lets the builders hire their own third-party inspectors to speed up the building process.
Only the FBI seems to take an interest in Houston. They have found so much mortgage fraud, they have opened up a special task force. Unfortunately, they work very slowly. The wheels of justice, as I witnessed, have come to a screeching halt. How many more Texans will become homeless and go into foreclosure before the truth is told?
Thank you for you time.
3003 Memorial Court Apartment 2407
Houston Texas 77007