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26 Abingdon homeowners sue builder over materials used in townhouse roofs He says he warned of potential problems


Twenty-six Abingdon homeowners have filed individual lawsuits in Harford County Circuit Court against Equity Homes Inc., a Bel Air-based builder, alleging that inferior materials caused their townhouse condominium roofs to leak, deteriorate and become structurally unsound.

The owners of the 9-year-old homes at the Cedars, off Laurel Bush Road, are contending that the builder, Robert W. Haase, is not honoring a 10-year warranty on their three- and four-bedroom townhouse condominiums.

The owners contend that the builder refused to replace the roofing plywood, popularly called "FRT" for "fire retardant treated."

One homeowner, Joseph Hutton Jr. of the 700 block of Burgh-Westra Way, said he and others who filed the lawsuits had structural engineering studies done last year.

He said copies of the engineer's reports were sent to the builder, requesting that he fix the problem.

Mr. Haase responded by letter April 18, saying that he is not liable, Mr. Hutton said.

"In essence, he said the supplier of the FRT plywood or the manufacturer of the treated wood preservative should be responsible," Mr. Hutton said.

Michael Burgoyne, a Baltimore lawyer representing Equity Homes, said last week that, like the homeowners, Equity Homes is an innocent victim.

He said Equity Homes notified homeowners as early as 1990 that there were potential problems with the FRT plywood.

"The owners were told what to look for," Mr. Burgoyne said.

During the late 1970s and into the 1980s, many builders on the East Coast followed county building code specifications and used FRT plywood, especially for continuous roofs for townhouses and condominiums, Mr. Burgoyne said.

Harford's building code allowed FRT to be used, he said.

The treated plywood was intended to prevent fire from spreading horizontally across rooftops, but no one knew then that some of the plywood's chemical preservatives would cause "leeching," a term used to describe chemicals rising to the surface and causing either black or white stains, he said.

"In either case, the wood becomes very brittle," Mr. Burgoyne said. "If there is foot traffic on the roof, a person could easily step through the brittle wood.

"It is quite possible that Equity Homes may decide to bring other parties whom they believe to be responsible into the lawsuit [as co-defendants]," he said. He declined to identify the other parties.

Lee Baylin, a Baltimore lawyer representing the homeowners, was out of town and unavailable for comment.

Each of the homeowners is asking for $9,999 in damages and $1,500 in legal expenses for negligence and breach of contract/warranty.

In other Circuit Court matters last week:

* Edward Spratt Jr., 29, of the 100 block of Carol Ave. in Aberdeen was convicted Wednesday and given an 18-month suspended sentence for performing home repairs last year without a contractor's license.

Mr. Spratt was placed on three years of supervised probation and ordered to pay $6,500 in restitution to Joann Jackson of the same block.

Evidence presented to Judge William O. Carr indicated that Ms. Jackson and her aunt, Katherine Swift, paid Mr. Spratt almost $7,000 last year to build an addition and porch on the back of their house between April and August.

Prosecutor William Christoforo said the addition was built on improper footings and that the porch was so poorly built that a licensed contractor recommended dismantling the entire structure and starting over.

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