JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – An attorney representing Fairway Oaks residents, who have been fighting for years to get repairs to what they call poorly built homes, said the city of Jacksonville and Habitat for Humanity of Jacksonville have responded to a class action lawsuit he filed in May on the residents' behalf.
Since May 2016, the News4Jax I-TEAM has been digging into reports that show the area in Northwest Jacksonville in which HabiJax chose to build the 85 homes in 2000 is near a landfill that might not have been lined in the 1950s.
Within five years of the homes being built by HabiJax and 10,000 volunteers in 17 days, residents said that they noticed their homes were shaking and unsettled, and homeowners also began complaining about cracked slabs, sinking, mold and termites.
But HabiJax has claimed that homeowners' "complaints stem from lack of maintenance and not from poor construction."
Despite that assertion, Fairway Oaks residents were given hope as they watched multiple City Council members, the mayor and even a state senator tour their sinking homes earlier this year, but to no avail.
Attorney Jack Krumbein, of Krumbein Law PLLC & The Strems Law Firm, has only been working with the Fairway Oaks residents for a few months, but he's already brought them more hope than anyone who has stepped into their sinking and cracking homes.
“The homeowners are excited. They are energized. They are some of the strongest people that I've ever met,” Krumbein said. “They are individuals that have endured a difficult time in their lives, and they need resolution.”
Krumbein, who was initially contacted by Fairway Oaks Homeowners Association president Nathaniel Borden, took a step toward that resolution when he filed a 51-page class action lawsuit outlining 12 different counts against both the city and HabiJax earlier this year.
He said both parties have responded, filing motions to dismiss, which he described as “very interesting.”
Krumbein said that in their response, HabiJax and the city claim the statute of limitations to file a lawsuit has expired, but Krumbein said several agreements that would extend that time frame were negotiated by his clients' previous attorneys. He said the city and HabiJax failed to include that information in their motions.
The case is set for its first hearing in January, and Krumbein said it's important that it moves quickly.
“I guess my biggest concern is the amount of time it's going to take,” Krumbein said. “Fortunately, we have a system that allows for a judge to make a decision without a jury. It's really the ultimate form of society governing itself.”
He said he doesn't plan on backing down and that he will prevail. He's already in the written discovery process and has received affidavits from nearly 60 residents, all saying they were not told the homes were built on potentially contaminated land.
The residents are asking for undisclosed damages in the suit.
Krumbein said he is grateful to Jacksonville Area Legal Aid for stepping in when it did, because if it had not, the situation would have been lost. But he wishes a lawsuit had been filed earlier.
What the lawsuit alleges
In the lawsuit, count one alleges there was a breach of contract by HabiJax. It says the residents were sold properties built on a former city dump and that those homes are not habitable.
The lawsuit also claims negligence, stating that had the city and HabiJax informed residents about the properties they were purchasing, they would have never experienced damages.
Another count in the lawsuit is negligent misrepresentation by HabiJax. It states HabiJax represented that the houses met reasonable standards of quality and habitability but that HabiJax knew or should have known that its representation of the quality of houses being sold to the plaintiffs wasn't right.
The lawsuit goes on to say that HabiJax concealed or left out important facts.
Krumbein said that sometimes people have to be able to call for a stranger's help, the same way one would call family, and that was the call he received from Borden.
"It's a complaint that fundamentally involves breach of contract, negligence and various other accounts, including misrepresentation," Krumbein said. "This is about justice."