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Condo Owners Sue Builder Over Defects in Units : Hidden Canyon: Residents complain that the 6-year-old project has been plagued with leaky roofs, cracks and falling tiles.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For years, condominium owners in Thousand Oaks’ Hidden Canyon development complained to builder Griffin Homes about leaky roofs, cracked walls and uneven floors.

They called Griffin’s customer-service line, wrote letters and groused to city housing officials.

Now the Hidden Canyon Homeowners Assn. is going to court in an attempt to force the Calabasas-based builder to make repairs on all 648 units in the affordable-housing development.

The association contends that the units, the oldest of which were constructed just six years ago, were built defectively and deteriorated over a short period of time, according to the complaint filed Oct. 6 in Ventura County Superior Court.

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The suit also charges that Griffin officials knew about the problems but failed to tell home buyers.

Although he acknowledges some problems with leaky roofs, Charles Fedalen Jr., a Griffin vice president and general counsel, denied that the whole project was built improperly and said the company has worked with homeowners to make many repairs.

Fedalen pointed out that, after roofs began leaking four years ago, Griffin established a 24-hour hot line, extended warranties on the condominiums from one to three years and continued to do work after the warranty period.

Tim Bildsoe, president of the homeowners association, said the suit was triggered by complaints that originally began with leaky roofs and eventually encompassed almost all aspects of construction.

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“We had a number of complaints with problems of leaky roofs, tiles falling off--literally just falling off,” Bildsoe said. “The average age of the units is about three to five years. That doesn’t seem like much time to develop leaky roofs.”

After a rain-soaked ceiling fell on one homeowner more than four years ago, Griffin agreed to make roof repairs. But about a year ago, the company began billing the homeowners association, Bildsoe said.

Fedalen said he did not know if the company is billing homeowners for repairs after the warranties expire.

The association surveyed homeowners three months ago and turned up scores of complaints, from falling cabinets and improperly installed patio doors to severe foundation cracks, Bildsoe said.

Although the lawsuit includes an unspecified amount of damages, Alex Robertson, an attorney representing the homeowners, said private consultants estimated that the complex needs $10 million to $15 million in repairs to roofs, walls, foundations and plumbing fixtures.

Robertson declined to provide a copy of the consultants’ reports, saying it would jeopardize the case against Griffin.

Fedalen said the homeowners association has been uncooperative. In July, the association stopped communicating with Griffin and began referring all calls and correspondence to its lawyers.

Hidden Canyon is the largest affordable-housing project built in Thousand Oaks. Homes sold originally for $86,000 to $139,000, beginning in 1984, but some have sold for as high as $160,000 since then.

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Many of the homeowners, such as Julie Barker, whose ceiling collapsed in February, 1986, have since sold their units.

After the ceiling fell, Griffin “took out every part of our roof and put in a completely new roof,” said Barker, 45. Griffin quickly repaired it and paid for $8,200 in damages to her belongings. “We didn’t have any other problems,” she said.

But Thousand Oaks city officials discovered that 45 other Hidden Canyon condos developed leaks. After the leaks were fixed, the city did not receive other complaints, officials in the city’s building department said.

Bildsoe said that not all homeowners have complained about their units and that some do not support the lawsuit. When the board of directors decided to file the lawsuit, one of the nine members voted against it.

“There are also people anxious about the lawsuit and what that might bring,” he said.

One of the homeowners against the lawsuit is Jackie Sternburg, 40. She said Griffin Homes has treated her complaints fairly and is worried that a lawsuit could hurt homeowners trying to sell their condos.

Sternburg has lived in the development for five years. When her ceiling began leaking in 1987, Griffin officials promptly made repairs, she said.

The next year, the ceiling leaked again. That time, Griffin repaired the leak and checked again six months later to determine if it was still a problem. She said she has had no leaks since.

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“I’ve had problems, but I’m satisfied with the way Griffin’s handling it,” said Sternburg, an elementary school teacher.

A supporter of the suit is Brenda Peters, a 32-year-old medical secretary who bought a three-bedroom unit for her and her 6-year-old daughter.

Peters said she at first was happy about the purchase four years ago. The two-story, $135,000 condominium was discounted by $3,500 because another buyer had canceled at the last minute.

But six months after she moved in, Peters began to notice cracks in walls and gaps on her roof where ceramic tiles used to be. Today, a bedroom window has separated from its frame and could fall out, she said.

The floor of one bedroom slopes. The concrete floor of her garage has a 1/4-inch crack running 20 feet. And one bathroom is unusable, she said, because pipes leak into a downstairs room.

“You spend $135,000 on a house, and you expect it to last,” Peters said. “Even if I wanted to sell this unit, I can’t. I can’t make the repairs.”

Peters said that when she complained to Griffin Homes, she was at first told that some defects, such as plumbing, would be repaired. Later, she said, she was told that repairs were her responsibility.

Robertson said Peters’ problem is shared by many homeowners, at least 100 of whom have reported cracks in their garages.

Griffin overlooked the fact that soil under the homes expands when wet, causing the ground to crack under some houses, he said. Other homes are built on soil used to fill in the canyon that surrounds the complex and are sinking, he said.

Peters said she does not know how much her unit would cost to repair. Although she acknowledges that she can live with some of the problems, she is unwilling to make any repairs until the lawsuit is resolved.

“I paid for a home that I expect to be standing 20 years from now,” Peters said. “I feel it’s their responsibility to fix my unit.”


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