St. Charles Herald-Guide

Hidden Oaks neighbors claim new homes are falling apart

By Kyle Barnett - June 13, 2013

Homeowners in the second block of the Hidden Oaks subdivision in Luling say their new homes are falling apart and they want something done about it.

Leaky windows, doors and ceilings, rotten wood, busted water pipes, cracked foundations and underperforming air conditioning units that send electric bills skyrocketing and sometimes necessitate the addition of window units are just a snapshot of problems reported by residents.

All of this and more in houses that were built over a five-year period from 2006 to 2011, which is at odds with what residents thought they were buying - modestly priced homes that would hold up fairly well given that they had would be the first owners.

Instead they accuse JJJ Development Partners, LLC. of hastily throwing the homes together to make a quick profit without any thought of the future and the serious repairs that would be necessitated by poor workmanship and the use of cheap materials.

The problems have become so numerous and widespread that area residents have turned to a Facebook page where they share the problems they are facing.

A list of deficiencies has been compiled and residents are even considering threatening JJJ Development Partners with legal action if their problems are not remedied.

Although the Louisiana Secretary of Stateís office lists JJJ Development Partners as being a partnership between St. Charles Parish District Attorney Joel Chaisson and former St. Charles Parish Councilman Jay Roberts, Chaisson said he is no longer part of the business.

"I was a silent partner at one time in JJJ Development in that I was not involved in any of the construction of these homes," he said. "I am no longer affiliated with the company and I have no knowledge of these complaints."

Chaisson said he was not part of the home construction process and that since departing JJJ Development, Roberts is the companyís sole owner.

"Iím not a builder. I develop subdivisions. That was my involvement. At some point one of my partners decided to build and he began doing so through the company," he said.

A worker who provided labor on the homes, but asked to remain anonymous, said after he found out the homes were not being built properly he left the project.

"They started doing things that werenít up to code," the source said.

Roberts denies any assertion that the homes were not built up to code.

"I maintain everything we did out there was built to standards and codes or it would have never passed inspection," he said.

However, Roberts added if there is any criticism on how the homes were built it should be levied on him.

"I probably handled 95 percent of the programs and Joel handled the legal work. So if there are any fingers that need to be pointed at anybody it should be me, but I know we built it to code and specifications," he said.

The St. Charles Parish Planning and Zoning Department was responsible for permitting construction for the homes. They say that most, if not all of the homes, were permitted in December 2006, only a month before strict inspection standards were implemented.

Roberts has a long history as a developer and said that this is the first time he has heard of any criticism over the quality of his properties.

"For 20 years I have been developing residential and every one of them is pristine," he said. "I pride myself on the fact I do things right and I am sorry some of those people are having some problems."

Rebecca Sherrill, who is no longer with JJJ Development, was the contractor on many of the homes. She said although she was the contractor, Roberts was really in charge of the home building process.

"Really I didnít do them. I supervised their construction, but Jay was the one who built them," she said. "It was Jayís money. Joel technically owned it, but Jay was completely in charge."

Sherrill also said she does not see how complaints from the residents can be valid given that most of the homes passed two inspections.

"Iíve had a city inspector and a private inspector look at the majority of these houses and both said they were fine," she said. "I donít know where this is coming from. For anyone to say we didnít do our due diligence is incorrect."

In the case that problems were found, Sherrill said they were addressed immediately.

"I know that there were a couple of people who had issues, but anybody who had issues was dealt with," she said.

Residents point to issues inside, outside of homes

A group of residents met in Ginger Jacksonís living room last week to talk about the problems with their homes.

Jackson purchased her home in late 2007 and was one of the first residents in the 200 block of the subdivision.

"These homes were marketed as high efficiency," she said. "I lived in New Orleans and I lived in an old house and it was so hot during the summer and so cold during the winter. So when I bought this house I was like Ďyes, energy efficiency!í"

However, Jackson has found that she and her neighbors routinely face $200 a month electric bills to cool homes that are only about 1,300 square feet in size.

"That was the big selling point. They were high energy efficient, we have this great air conditioner, we have these fantastic windows, we have foam insulation, but Iím not sure if it is all done right or not," she said.

She places the problem on underperforming central air conditioning units and unsecured windows and doorways. Climate control has become such an issue that she and other residents have purchased window unit air conditioners to supplement their central air conditioning units and keep their homes cool.

Many of the homeowners also said their windows were installed incorrectly, but when they notified Sherrill of the problem they said only a few of the houses received replacements.

"We found out that not only were the windows they put in not high efficiency, as they had told us, but they also leaked every time it rained," Jackson said. "The developers replaced ours and at two other homes once mold developed, but after that they quit granting replacements."

Jackson said soon afterward Sherrill quit returning residentsí phone calls altogether.

"There was one point where I think we were going to try and find (Sherrill) because I know where she lives," she said. "You get tired and you ask them to fix it and they donít do anything."

Sherrill disputes Jacksonís version of events.

"Any phone call that I ever received, to the best of my knowledge, I returned. I may not have done it immediately, but as far as I know they were always able to reach me," she said.

Josh Petit, whose young family bought their first home just down the street, had windows that were also leaking, but he fixed them as well as he could on his own.

"You could see outside through the sides of the windows, so I just put weather stripping in the cracks," he said. "If it wouldnít be for that I am sure theyíd still be leaking. I donít know how long it will last though."

Petit points to other problems with his home as well.

"The back door is messed up. Itís all rotten through on both sides and underneath. Iíve got a crack on the slab and minor issues. They didnít cut the floor right. They got mold in the bathroom. They got rid of it but it came right back," he said.

Petit said he is afraid of what might go wrong next and is tempted to put his house on the market although he is not sure what the chances are of getting a good price for it.

"Whatís going to happen later on? How am I going to sell that house?" he said.

Amanda Figueredo is Petitís sister and next door neighbor. She thought she was living her dream when she and her husband, Adam, moved into their new home.

"My husband was in Iraq when we were building it and when he came home it was finished in February 2011," she said. "We were so excited because the day after we moved in here is when we found out we were pregnant. So everything was happening all at the same time and we were so excited to get this house."

Now, although the house is just two years old, she faces numerous problems.

First of all, much like her neighbors, the central air conditioning does not properly cool the house. In the master bedroom small fans sit on either side of the bed and an upright air conditioner runs at maximum capacity.

Also, she says cracks have formed in the ceilings and walls and heavy rains flood her garage and often damage the homeís electrical components.

"The breaker box goes out every time we have a torrential rain," she said. "Weíve had to replace it four times now. Also, our outdoor outlets are not up to grade. If they get wet we have to wait a couple of weeks for them to dry out so we can use them."

Although Figueredo is not happy with the problems that have cropped up in her home only two years after its construction, she is resigned to the situation.

"That is just the way it is. I donít know if there is anything we can really do about it," she said.

Many of the homes do not have finished floors, but rather stained concrete. Damian Folse points to Jacksonís worn and cracked concrete floor.

"They were as cheap as can be. They left these concrete floors, didnít put down carpet or any other type of flooring because that would have cost money," he said. "They stained the floors, but they didnít do it properly so now they are having problems as well."

Folse bought his home in 2008. He said had he known how many issues he was going to face he would have thought twice before making the purchase.

"I did not expect to have to open my toolbox as many times Iíve had to with a house this new," he said. "And still there is work to do. I donít have a level door or window frame in the house. Itís not an easy task to take a door frame off and replumb it, both the closet door and exterior doors."

Folse has had a few issues with his home including an air conditioning unit that had to be replaced and a cracked driveway he believes led to a broken sewage pipe underneath.

"They didnít find out about it until the sewer pipe filled up and then an automatic pump turned on and a geyser of sewage shot into the air out of my driveway," he said.

Although the St. Charles Parish Public Works Department sent out a crew who fixed the pipe, Folse now has a sinkhole in his yard that he has to fill with dirt periodically.

"The fact that the dirt keeps being washed away leads me to believe there is still a leak down there, but it hasnít caused serious issues," he said. "Although Iím afraid my wife will drive in one day and the driveway will fall through beneath her because it has all been washed out."

In addition to his problems on the outside, Folse has also had other issues inside his home.

Like many of his neighbors, his back door leaks into his dining room when a heavy rain hits. In addition, one of his water lines burst inside the home earlier this year.

"The water line was one of the flex pipes and one of the crimps was not installed correctly and of course no leak, no issue until I had water come out of the ceiling in the living room. I went to investigate it and you could tell that the crimp was just grabbed wrong," he said.

Only a few months later, Justin Zeringue, who lives across the street from Folse, also experienced a burst water pipe.

"Fortunately for me, but unfortunately for him, he had the tools already from fixing his problem. I was able to borrow them and fix ours," Zeringue said. "These pipes are supposed to be indestructible. They are designed to expand and contract with the weather so they donít burst. The fact we had two pipes burst tells me that they didnít install the joints correctly."

The moldings around Zerigueís garage door and his shutters are rotten all the way through and his roof leaks into his attic during heavy rains.

Zeringue works as an HVAC repairman and he has been enlisted by many of his neighbors for help with their air conditioning problems.

"Iíve had to fix the air conditioners in 90 percent of the neighborhood," he said.

Zeringue said once he started working on the units he made a dismaying discovery.

"All of these units were supposed to have a ten year warranty on them, but because the developer never sent in the paperwork for that warranty it was decreased to five years," he said. "Five years later everyone is finding out that their air conditioners are no longer under warranty."

In addition, Zeringue said he has found many instances of the duct work being the wrong size and being laid improperly.

"It needs to be secured. A duct strap is a big long tie wrap and some tape. Itís not that hard to fix, it is just that I had to fix it and I donít see why we should have these problems," he said.

Zeringue said in the end there are just too many problems for the homes to be so new.

"There are too many issues. If I was buying a new house and if (JJJ) built it I wouldnít buy it," he said. "I just wouldnít buy a house from them ever again."

Ginger Jackson stands in front of an air conditioning window unit she had to install because she says her central air conditioning unit doesnít work properly.
Ginger Jackson stands in front of an air conditioning window unit she had to install because she says her central air conditioning unit doesnít work properly.