Class-action possibility increases interest in Sun City stucco lawsuit

Lawyers representing a Sun City Hilton Head couple suing for allegedly defective stucco work say interest in the lawsuit has increased following a state Supreme Court ruling allowing homeowners to seek class-action status.

John Chakeris of Chakeris Law Firm of Charleston, one of four lawyers handling the case, said that since the Oct. 4 decision, he has received about 20 calls from Sun City residents who want to join the more than 140 homeowners he already represents.

Before the case can move forward as a class action, a circuit court judge must certify that there is a large number of Sun City residents affected by the stucco problems. A motion seeking class-action status is pending in the court. If approved, it could apply to more than 2,500 Sun City homes, Chakeris said.

Anthony and Barbara Grazia's suit was originally filed against South Carolina State Plastering LLC, which said developer Del Webb Communities and builder Pulte Homes Inc. were responsible for some or all of the damages. That action made Webb and Pulte a part of the suit.

Lawyers representing all of the defendants have requested more time to file a rehearing before the Supreme Court to try to overturn the decisionthat allowed the homeowners to seek class-action status, according to one of their attorneys, Vic Rawl of the McNair Law Firm.

Chakeris said the stucco problem in Sun City is widespread. An engineer hired to inspect a sampling of about 250 homes found the stucco could have been improperly applied in all 2,500 homes, he said.

"People are having problems that are not being addressed and now are left to the courts," Chakeris said.

Bob Flaherty, a private home inspector who lives in Sun City, said he also has been fielding calls from residents concerned with their stucco as their five-year warranties on free repairs for water intrusion tick away.

Improperly installed stucco can cause water to seep in, damaging walls and causing mold. The problems arise when a thin sheet of tarpaper behind the stucco that's supposed to keep water out has been broken, cracked or nailed through, Flaherty said.

Flaherty has surveyed more than 50 homes with an infrared camera searching for water spots inside the walls. Of those, 13 percent have required major repairs, such as replacement of walls and siding. About 22 percent needed minor repairs.

Flaherty said his numbers could be skewed because homeowners often call when they already suspect a problem. Nonetheless, the sheer number of repairs required is "a big issue," he said.

A Del Webb statement released after the Supreme Court decision says the developer has already made repairs for isolated stucco problems. Representatives from Sun City neighborhoods where houses stucco repairs were done said homeowners have been pleased with Pulte's quick response.

"The few issues that we had were addressed immediately and repaired immediately," said Arlene Raftery, the representative for the Juniper Creek neighborhood.

Since January, Pulte has obtained 18 permits for repairs in Sun City, according to Beaufort County building codes director Arthur Cummings, although he said he did not know if all of those deal with stucco.

Cosmetic repairs don't require a permit, Cummings said.

In two or three instances, county inspectors or homeowners have contacted Cummings when Pulte didn't obtain a permit for major stucco repairs which were found while minor repairs were being made, Cummings said. In such cases, the permit fees are doubled, he said.