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Homeowner suit claims stucco caused wood rot; Thousands of dollars sought for damage to 3 Roland Park homes; Moisture in walls alleged


Three homeowners in a Roland Park townhouse community have filed a class action suit in what their attorney is calling the first synthetic stucco case in Maryland, saying their homes have sustained thousands of dollars in structural damage because of the product.

The suit, filed Jan. 5 in Baltimore City Circuit Court, seeks thousands of dollars from Sto Corp. of Atlanta; Dryvit Systems Inc. of West Warwick, R.I.; Keystone Homes Inc., builders of the Roland Springs townhouse community; and Keystone's principal, Robert W. McGee. Keystone Homes ceased operation in late 1998.

Dryvit Systems and Sto are two of the nation's largest manufacturers of the synthetic stucco.

Known in the industry as an "exterior insulation finish system" or EIFS, synthetic waterproof stucco is applied to foam insulation and glued to the exterior siding.

Because of its affordability, look and insulation, synthetic stucco gained popularity in the early 1990s.

However, its use has been blamed for water and structural damage in hundreds of lawsuits filed in the past five years in North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas.

Water seeps into interior walls via window and door joints, causing wood to rot, the suits claim.

"Our stance on this is that it is a builder issue," said Joyce Cereto, a paralegal in Dryvit's legal office.

"A lot of problems that these people have with their homes have nothing to do with synthetic stucco. It has to do with shoddy workmanship. Poor building practices."

Gail Sandager, a plaintiff in the Maryland suit, bought her townhouse from the original homeowner in 1993 for $175,000.

She first noticed a problem about six months ago when a picture became moldy after absorbing moisture from a wall.

"Once I tried to take it off the wall, it had grown attached," Sandager said.

"And you couldn't see [the moisture stain] until you went to remove it. And when we did, it ripped a little of the drywall off."

After having the moisture in her wall measured, Sandager was told she faced approximately $20,000 in repairs.

"I've had other homes, but this is the first problem I've had where I didn't have a solution," Sandager said, adding that in November she and two other townhouse owners retained Gary Mason of the Washington law firm of Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll PLLC.

"This particular community [of about 200 townhouses] is unbelievable. It is entirely EIFS. I was stunned when I went out there," said Mason, who has been involved in a number of synthetic stucco cases nationwide.

"It is a huge issue. It's accelerating, if anything," Mason said. "It is not an issue that peaked and everyone recognized the problem and it started to fade away."

Pub Date: 1/21/99

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