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Homeowners' sign makes Chinese drywall dispute public

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 11:30 AM
TAMPA -

Stacy and Billy Peek say their $2 million, 7,000-square-foot Davis Islands dream home was ruined by toxic drywall that forced them to leave two years ago.

First, there was a strange odor. Then, health problems.

"It started out with extreme hair loss," Stacy Peek said. "My daughter and I were losing huge clumps of hair; our cats were losing hair; our sons were losing eye lashes. We would have children come over for sleepovers, and they would have to leave at midnight because they couldn't breathe in the home anymore."

The couple said they called their Tampa builder, Devonshire Properties Inc., but were told the house was fine. They say they hired a private inspector who confirmed they were one of thousands in Florida with toxic drywall imported from China, emitting a stinky gas known to corrode metal and, some homeowners contend, cause health problems. The federal government has recommended homeowners with bad drywall move out until the drywall is replaced.

But the Peeks' builder said there's no need. So last week they put up a sign, advertising their nightmare. They hope to shame the builder into stepping up and replacing the drywall.

"We just want it to be fixed," Stacy Peek said.

The builder maintains there's no problem and questions the Peeks' test results, according to the company's attorney, Gary Gibbons.

"Our tests reflected the drywall is not off-gassing," he said. "There's no corrosion on the components of the home."

Gibbons calls the banner "vindictive" and said the Peeks are damaging the builder's reputation.

After the Peeks put up the sign, they say they received a letter from Gibbons, demanding it be taken down. The builder is now doing business as another company, Devonshire Custom Homes, LLC. The letter says the banner reflects badly on that company.

The banner is "misleading or confusing the public into believing that Devonshire Custom Homes, LLC was the builder of your home when it was not," the letter states.

But the new company is managed by a family member of the original company owner, and both companies share the same address, 3412 W. Bay to Bay Blvd., according to public records.

Replacing bad drywall is a costly endeavor, for any home. But for a 7,000-square-foot home such as the Peeks bought, remediating the drywall could cost upwards of a million dollars.

The problematic drywall was imported during the housing boom, when builders ran out of drywall. Some builders have offered to replace drywall for customers, others have not, and some homeowners have sued builders and manufactures. The Peeks have joined a nationwide lawsuit, which names Devonshire and various other builders and manufacturers.

This month, a federal judge gave preliminary approval a major settlement in one of the cases. One of the largest manufactures of Chinese drywall imported into the U.S. proposed settling a lawsuit and replacing drywall. Unfortunately for the Peeks, their drywall was manufactured by another company.

So for now, the Peeks' dream home is abandoned, with holes in the walls in nearly every room. They're renting a condo and say they've had to move multiple times. Peek said the family is still paying a mortgage and keeping up its homeowner's insurance policy. The cost: $14,000 every six months.

Peek said she just wants her home fixed. And until that happens, the sign is staying put.

sbehnken@tampatrib.com


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