Dream Homes Quickly Become Nightmares
By Miriam Rosenberg
When they bought them, the new owners believed they would be moving into their dream homes in Rockaway.
Instead, many of those who moved into the Ocean Pointe Houses In Bayswater development, located in Edgemere, say that they are living in a perpetual nightmare.
"These houses are meant for hospital workers, cops, teachers, and transit workers," claimed developer R. Randy Lee, the President of the Staten Island-based Leewood Real Estate Group, in an article published in Realtor Magazine while the development was still under construction. "Our goal is to keep moderate-income working families in the city and make them homeowners in order to create community stability."
Yet it is the very people Lee says he is helping - civil servants and middle class workers - that are accusing him of building homes that should have never passed inspection.
The Gomez family, who bought one of the model homes, was among the first 17 families to move into the new development in 2003.
"I was led to believe that everything would be fine, but there were problems prior to closing," said Damaris Gomez. "I had to sneak in one day to inspect my home. I found holes in the walls, the floors were not nailed in and wires were out."
After conducting her own inspection she found there were "basically two vents in the living room for heating. If you wanted the other rooms heated, you had to keep the doors closed."
She also replaced three big windows costing her $9,500, which she said made a huge difference in keeping the cold air out.
"There were so many repairs it wasn't funny," continued Gomez. "I spent money for the furnace [and the] windows. With all the money I spent already, I could have purchased another and better home."
Other homeowners explained the situation to The Wave. Brenda Montague said, "The developer tried to deter us from having our own home inspector from page 5
come through." Heather Perkins, a police officer with the NYPD, believes the homes were built in a haphazard way. "The doors are not square," said Perkins, who complained of the drafts in her home. "People came in to redo and redo them. I caulked around the door outside."
Perkins continued by saying, "I had a guy go through my house. There were so many gaps in my house - gaping holes, hot air blows out, the attic is not sealed - you don't have wall meeting wall."
Ava Bennick says, "I put in work orders for a year and a half for the floor, then my husband got deployed [to Iraq]. I was promised the work would be done before my husband got home. He came back 11 months later and the work was not done. Now I have holes in the floor. The floors are rocky and bouncing and the fish tank water is uneven."
Bennick took this reporter to the small crawlspace under her home to show the wooden supports she said Lee installed under the dining room floor and the living room (where her fish tank is located).
Nick Soldano, an independent contractor and inspector hired by Bennick, commented on the wooden supports.
"[Lee] solidified it with 2 x 4's in the crawlspace," said Soldano. "There's no main beam going down the middle of the home to help prevent bouncing."
Soldano says the houses meet code, but at a minimum. "The materials could have been better," said Soldano.
In addition, he says he found open draft areas, jammed doors, particleboard instead of the plywood that was used in the sample homes and sheet rock under the vinyl siding on the outside.
"There seems to be problems with all of [the homes]," said Soldano, who said he has had "involvement with all the homes."
Bennick also replaced a huge window in the living room, which - when it was removed - revealed rotted particleboard, as well as no insulation, at its base.
The residents said they tried to work things out with Lee. There had been several meetings that resulted with promises to fix the problems - most of which, the owners say, Lee has failed to follow through with.
In 2005, Senator Malcolm Smith called a meeting with Councilman James Sanders Jr., Lee, and the Department of Buildings. At that meeting Smith gave Lee a deadline of September 13, 2005 to fix all of the problems.
The Wave has come into possession of several documents.
An August 8, 2005 letter from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development's coordinator for the project, Lenny Seif, which was sent to Gomez and her husband, states, "This office has been in regular contact with the developer R. Randy Lee and the NYC Department of Buildings, and the Housing Partnership of New York to insure that the items in your letter - which are part of a larger negotiated scope of repairs - are being satisfactorily completed."
Seif did not return The Wave's calls asking for comment on this story.
The letter says the commissioner of the DOB, Patricia Lancaster, had inspected a number of the homes in the development and, after discussions with the HPD and Lee, said that the developer "agreed to fully recognize" his obligations under the limited warranty and beyond to make repairs.
In September 2005, Bennick alleges that Lee gave Senator Smith a book with what she and her neighbors termed "fraudulent documentation" indicating that all of the repair work was completed. Bennick, who has a copy, told The Wave "Yes, he had the work orders [from the homeowners], but he never fixed things or fixed one thing out of eight.
"Nobody bothered to research or confirm [that the work was actually done]. When we reached out, no one returned our calls. Senator Smith told us to write letters. David Jordan [of the Department of Investigation] said to get the media involved."
The Wave made several attempts to contact Senator Smith without success. His press representative, Selvena Brooks, told this newspaper not to let the inability to speak with the Senator keep this article from being published.
The Ocean Pointe homeowners said Jordan and his agency were investigating Lee.
The Wave attempted to speak with Jordan at the Department of Investigation (DOI). Diane Struzzi, from the agency's press office said, "The DOI does not confirm or deny whether we're investigating something."
David Cursio of the Mayor's Office of Veteran Affairs, which is also involved, would not comment on specific client's cases, but did say, "We know [DOI is] looking into it. They have their own procedures."
The Wave also has a copy of a Confidential Settlement Form that Lee sent to the Bennicks and several other homeowners. While each was asked to sign the form, residents say that nobody has signed.
By signing the settlement form it would have released Lee, his company and anyone involved with his business from all future claims against them and then repairs would be made.
The settlement would also have prevented homeowners from discussing the contents of the document with a threat of breach of confidentially pledge set with damages, beginning at $5,000, to be paid to Lee.
"He wanted to silence us," said Bennick.
Sanders said the city sold the land to the HPD and they hired the developer.
"Although these people have worked hard to make beautiful homes, I do see, what appears to me, signs there of sloppy contracting," the
While Sanders is disturbed by what he has seen, he did say it is between the owner and the developer.
When The Wave spoke with Lee, he called the homeowner's claims "a very old story."
"These people have said these things previously at every turn," said Lee. "I would say there is not one pending complaint about these homes. Every complaint has been responded to above and beyond warranty."
Lee concluded by saying "A handful have made it their life's mission to [find people] to listen to these charges. There is certainly a long history of cooperation and maintenance and assistance to all the homeowners.
"My conscience is clear. I have [met] my legal and moral obligations."
NYPD Officer Heather Perkins, left, and Ava Bennick hold the particleboard that Bennick found at the base of a window that had been replaced by her.
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A close up of the board shows how the elements had rotted it.
A look in the crawlspace of the Bennick home shows that, like their neighbors, they had to caulk and insulate to keep the home warm.
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In the crawlspace under the Bennick home, the developer put in 2 x 4 wooden supports to solidify the living and dining floors.