Originally created 03/02/00

Relief bill stalled by chairman



ATLANTA - A bill to extend the period for homeowners to file suit on defective construction was stalled in a Senate committee on Wednesday when the chairman ordered the sponsor to negotiate an agreement with lobbyists opposing it.

"I want you to come back with something we can work with," said Sen. Ed Harbison, D-Columbus, chairman of the Veterans and Consumer Affairs Committee. "Reasonable people ought to be able to negotiate."

Rep. Tom Bordeaux, D-Savannah, introduced the bill in response to people living along the coast who discovered rot and termites in their homes that was caused, they say, by defective synthetic stucco. But they discovered the damage after the current deadline for suing.

Dan Massey of Savannah told the committee he had his home inspected by the builder one year before the deadline, and no damage was found. Then three months after the deadline, investigation of a 3-inch patch of discoloration eventually revealed $50,000 in decay in his 4'-year-old house.

"We are made to feel like we have done something wrong when all we did was put our trust in our contractors, put our trust in our Realtors, put our trust in our inspectors," Mr. Massey said.

The Governor's Office of Consumer Affairs says there are many other construction products routinely found defective after the current suit cutoff, such as siding, wood shakes, water-heater tubes and fire-retardant plywood.

Lobbyists for the construction industry call the bill too broad because it would affect every component in a house, and contractors' insurance isn't geared to protect them from expanded liability.

"I don't think anybody disputes there is a problem," said committee member Sen. Joey Brush, R-Appling. "Home builders paid good money for these products and used them in good faith. ... Mr. Bordeaux and the lawyers are going to have a good time in this."

Mr. Harbison said he plans to schedule another meeting on the bill Monday.