Time may be running out for Fairway Oaks residents

Construction attorney says residents face uphill battle


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Nearly two months after owners of Fairway Oaks HabiJax homes expressed concerns to the I-TEAM over how their homes were built, a construction attorney explained what he believes is working against the residents.

Many of the 85 homes, built by volunteers 16 years ago, are cracking and sinking.

For the past few years, Fairway Oaks residents have questioned where to turn. Residents aren’t sure whether to hold HabiJax, the housing authority or the city responsible for allowing their homes to be built on part of a landfill, causing cracked slabs and settlement issues.

RELATED: Councilwoman: Deny HabiJax funding until Fairway Oaks problems fixed

Since 2007, several homeowners have been represented by Jacksonville Area Legal Aid attorneys who have yet to file a lawsuit. Attorney Barry Ansbacher, who is not associated with the case, said the residents are facing an uphill battle.

Ansbacher said two crucial laws are time sensitive in the case.

The first was the statute of limitations.

“Florida has very strict time limits on when you can bring a claim that is related to either negligent design or negative construction,” Ansbacher said.

Ansbacher explained that if the issue is obvious, then there's four years from when the residents purchased their home and take occupancy. If it's hidden, they have four years from when they discovered it or with reasonable investigation should have discovered it.

RELATED: HabiJax homeowner says ‘help is on the way' after City Council meeting

According to the second law, the statute of repose, it doesn’t depend on the knowledge of the homeowner.

Under the law, homeowners count back 10 years from when the home was completed, the owner takes occupancy or the builder completes the contract and when time runs out, the homeowner is left to foot the bill.

“Most mortgages are 30 years and a lot of issues don't show up until well after the 10 years statute of repose has run out and it's already too late to act upon it,” Ansbacher said.

In 2006, the Florida Legislature reduced the statute of repose from 15 years to 10. As recently as last year there were attempts to reduce it even further to only seven years.

It doesn’t appear that the residents have many options, but Ansbacher said they do need to pinpoint exactly where things went wrong.

I-TEAM: HabiJax homes built on land unable to support them, document says

“The only chance that they would have to avoid the harsh effects of the statute of repose would be if the homeowners could show that the building contract for some reason was never completed or there was some portion of the construction contract that wasn't finished and then there might be recourse against the builder,” Ansbacher said.

I-TEAM investigators obtained new information on the background of one of the builders involved in the project.

According to records, John Davie was a contractor who worked on one of the HabiJax homes.

According to Construction Industry Licensing Board records, Davie had two violations before applying to work with HabiJax in 2000 -- a citation in 1994 and an imposed suspension.