Feb. 09, 2007
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal
Lawsuits flow over plumbing
Homeowners sue installers, who blame manufacturer for faulty fixtures
By HUBBLE SMITH
A-Bear plumbers Carlos Jerez, left, and Oscar Sanzores help replace Kitec pipes and fittings in this Henderson house on Forest City Drive.
Photos by Gary Thompson.
About 35,000 to 50,000 homes in the Las Vegas Valley have Kitec brass fixtures. A class action lawsuit claims the fixtures are faulty.
A construction defect lawsuit that started last year with about 1,000 homes in Sun City MacDonald Ranch has been expanded to include potentially 35,000 to 50,000 homes throughout the Las Vegas Valley, an attorney for some of the homeowners said.
Randall Jones of Harrison Kemp Jones law firm said the class action lawsuit includes all owners of homes in Clark County with Kitec brass plumbing fittings. Defendants named in the lawsuit are Kitec maker IPEX, Classic Plumbing, Sharp Plumbing and Cox & Sons Plumbing.
Extensive corrosion and crystallization caused by chemical reaction occurs where Kitec is coupled with polyurethene-based tubing, resulting in plumbing problems such as leaks, reduced water flow and breaks, the lawsuit alleges.
"We have metallurgists who opined that, based on testing of these brass fittings, they will all fail," Jones said. Major home builders that used Kitec include KB Home, Pulte, Richmond American, Signature, Woodside and John Lang, he said.
Steve Hawley, owner of Classic Plumbing, said the Kitec problem cost him his business and he's pursuing legal action against IPEX, the Canadian-based manufacturer of Kitec.
"I'm basically out of business," he said. "I have no employees. I'm the only employee now just to handle the lawsuit. Here I had one of the largest residential plumbing companies in the valley for 25 years and had to shut it down."
Hawley said he put Kitec fittings in about 5,000 homes in the valley, many of them for Richmond American. When the fittings started having problems, he called Kitec and company officials said it was "no big deal." They paid for product and labor to repair a few homes and then "pulled up stakes" in Colorado and moved to Canada, he said.
"I was out of pocket $300,000 taking care of these people, so I couldn't come out and take care of the poor homeowners," Hawley said. "I told them it's not a workmanship problem, it's the product. So I sued Kitec."
Cox & Sons Plumbing declined comment. Sharp Plumbing failed to return phone calls.
Developer Del Webb started using Kitec fittings after other plumbing problems surfaced in Sun City Summerlin, attorney Francis Lynch of Lynch Hopper Salzano, representing Sun City MacDonald Ranch homeowners, told the Review-Journal last year.
He said the MacDonald Ranch case is continuing and a hearing is scheduled in March. Judge Nancy Saitta, who was previously handling the case, was elected to the Nevada Supreme Court. The new judge, Timothy Williams, certified the class action lawsuit.
Pulte Homes, Del Webb's parent company, recently sent letters to residents of its master-planned Anthem community in Henderson, offering to pay homeowners $7,800 to make necessary repairs, which could require rerouting plumbing overhead through walls and attics.
Nevada Revised Statutes Chapter 40 was changed a few years ago to rein in construction-defect lawsuits, giving builders the right to repair or compensate home owners before they go to litigation.
"In this instance, we want to compensate homeowners to get repairs done on their homes so they can go on with their lives and enjoy their homes and not be caught up in a lawsuit for five years with no promise of compensation," Pulte spokeswoman Sasha Jackowich said.
Pulte "hasn't offered a dime" to homeowners in Sun City MacDonald Ranch, Lynch said, even though the same Kitec material was used in those homes and the builder's own experts said the plumbing has to be replaced.
Favil West, president of Sun City Anthem Homeowners Association, said Kitec fittings may have been installed in as many as 3,000 homes there.
"The board had, up until last week, declined to become involved in this matter as clearly it is a homeowner-developer issue," West wrote in the Anthem Compendium. "At the request of literally hundreds of our residents, the board directed me to investigate and report. The board further directed that a legal opinion be obtained with respect to the limits of participation of the board without exposing the association to any liability."
Sun City Anthem resident Tony Bell said most of the people he's talked to are taking the money and forgoing the lawsuit. He was told it would take about 45 days to receive the check.
"A lot of them are having the work done before they get the money," he said. "I'm taking the $7,800 rather than wait five years in the lawsuit and get a check for $36. You've got to take the money out of your pocket and fix it and you might not get enough money to fix it."
Bell said he signed a release from future claims against Pulte over the Kitec fittings, though it does not exclude other coverage under Pulte's home warranty. It gives Pulte the right to sue Kitec and recover losses, he said.
Chuck Davis, another Sun City Anthem resident, said he signed the release with Del Webb and opted out of the class action lawsuit. "I don't do anything for attorneys," he said.
Davis said the $7,800 repair cost is based on the largest home in the Anthem community and there's a "flock" of residents who think they can make money by having the work done for less.
West said board members met with the class action lawyers in December and then met with their own attorney. Sun City residents discussed the issue with lawyers from both Pulte and Harrison Kemp Jones at a January board meeting. He said most of the board members have requested an inspection.
Kristi Lonsinger said she's happy with her plumbing repairs, but complained that the city of Henderson raised its inspection fee from $91 to $285. Normally, city officials would inspect the work once when it's completed, but now they make three or four inspections, she said.
"They no longer care about the final cosmetic look. The city said they want to make sure our homes are put back together the way they should be," Lonsinger said in an e-mail to neighbors.