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Judge rules in favor of homeowners in case of failing Fife homes

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It was victory day for nearly two dozen homeowners in Fife.  After nearly two years of fighting their homebuilder, Highmark Homes, and its owner, Tom Tollen, they’re one step closer to justice.

“We’ve finally have gotten to a point where, ok.  They’re responsible.  They’re going to have to fix this,” exclaimed homeowner Tracy Berg.

The homeowners sued Highmark and Tollen after their new construction homes started falling apart.  Water was seeping through exterior walls.  The excessive moisture caused black mold and mushrooms to grow.  One home even had centipedes under the carpet.

“My house is unsafe. The structural integrity of my home is not there,” explained Berg.

All the houses have a warranty but the homeowners didn’t feel comfortable having Highmark perform the repairs.  So while Tollen was busy cruising his other developments in his Lamborghini, the homeowners hired Chris Casey to take their case to court

“I see an absolute pattern with regard to the quality of construction.  Absolutely slip-shod and I’ve said it in my briefings,” said Casey.

Casey said Highmark and Tollen broke state law by failing to build homes that meet the International Building Code.  He brought in experts who found incorrect siding installation, windows and doors.  But, in a case that has gone on for nearly two years, Tollen’s attorneys still needed time to come up with their expert’s report.  Pierce County Superior Court Judge Philip Sorensen opted not to wait and made his ruling.

“I think that liability is established as well,” said Judge Sorensen.  “It’s difficult to conceive that the way these things were put together would measure up to any building code standard.”

The only thing left for debate is how much Highmark and Tollen should have to pay.  Casey’s experts believe repairs could cost over $100,000 per house to make the repairs.  Tollen’s experts say it’s more like $68,000.  That’s a significant difference if you’re the homeowner.

“Can you imagine buying a house for $230,000 and waking up the next day that the defendant, the contractor, agrees that it’s going to cost over $68,000 to do repairs?  Where are you going to find that money Jesse?” said Casey.

“Tom, would you put your family in my home?” asked Berg.  “He would never live in my house.  Never.  Because it’s not safe.  I have to live with putting my family in a home that’s not safe, every day.  And now we’re going to go down the road of finally getting it fixed.”

This decision applies to one of the homes in the Valley Haven development but will likely impact the findings for the other 28 houses.  If both sides don’t reach an agreement on the cost of repairs this will head to trial sometime in August.  In the meantime, we’re talking to homeowners in Lynnwood where a similar lawsuit has been filed and Bremerton where homeowners are facing similar issues.

Do you have a story you want me to check out? Call 1-844-77-JESSE (53773) or send me a message here. I’ll be part of KIRO 7 Eyewitness News most weekdays at 5:15 p.m. You can also check out my Facebook page and click here to follow me on Twitter.

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