We have no doubt that Mark Kukucka is riding a wave of support from a legion of disgruntled consumers. There are few people who have ever made a dissatisfying purchase who did not spend a few moment's contemplation on what Mr. Kukucka has now done.
For weeks, the 34-year-old scientist has been picketing in front of the Ryland Group Inc. headquarters in downtown Columbia and at other Ryland housing developments to protest what he says are construction defects in his Baltimore County home. Mr. Kukucka purchased the home near Security Square Mall in 1993 from Ryland, but by 1994 had uncovered what he alleges were 88 problems -- from poorly installed carpeting to basement leaks.
Ryland, the third largest homebuilder in the nation, offered to send in a home inspector and to correct all of the problems but Mr. Kukucka instead wants the company to buy back his $188,000 home and reimburse him for the mortgage payments he has made so far.
Ryland instead has chosen to sue Mr. Kukucka for $750,000, claiming he has harassed the company's employees by following them home and videotaping them. A Baltimore County Circuit Court judge, in a ruling we concur with wholeheartedly, has ordered Mr. Kukucka to stop any such behavior but has allowed him to continue his picketing. Mr. Kukucka has a First Amendment right to protest so long as he does not impede others from entering or leaving the premises.
Beyond that, we must confess that we are perplexed by this standoff. Ryland's offer to make any necessary repairs seems totally reasonable. Its lawsuit, on the other hand, could be construed as an effort to intimidate the disgruntled buyer and curtail the public relations exposure; it has had the opposite effect.
Both parties should consider putting the matter before an impartial arbitrator to seek a compromise. The state's Better Business Bureau provides such a service, but both parties must be willing and the two sides say they've lost faith in the other.
While few of us would go to Mr. Kukucka's lengths, we can relate to the anger consumers feel when they perceive they've been burned. But this homebuyer has clearly gotten the company's attention, which can be half the battle in such disputes. His demand that the builder pay his living expenses of the past year, along with buying his home, seems off the wall, however.