WILLIAMSBURG, Va - Anyone in the market to move may want to pose the question: "What's in the walls?" in addition to questions about square footage.
WAVY.com has investigated homeowner's defective Chinese drywall problems for more than a year. But renters are starting to add their voices to those dealing with a sulfur odor, corroded wiring, and unexplained health problems.
Cheryl Radcliff rented a home in Williamsburg in November of 2009.
"You know, [we] wanted a new start in Williamsburg, and walked into a toxic environment. It's just been unbelievable," she said.
Radcliff said everyone in her family started getting sick shortly after they moved in to the home on Chanticleer Court.
"My son who's 10 had respiratory problems from the very beginning to the very end. He missed 20 days of school. Went from all As and one B to Bs and Cs...[he] could not concentrate, lethargic, etcetera...It was almost like you had the flu 24-7. And I had a headache everyday for six months."
They moved out of the rental home in April. Radcliff said she never would have moved into it if she knew it was built with Chinese drywall.
"It was not disclosed to me. I didn't have any knowledge of it whatsoever," she said.
A few doors down, Cay Simpson's heart broke after she bought her home.
She held up a tarnished object with black spots, frustrated, "This is what it did to a lamp base--brass. It's brass."
Simpson moved out when the builder confirmed it was built with the bad drywall. He was going to fix it about a year ago, but Simpson stopped the work. Her walls are still marked with red Cs, for areas believed to contain Chinese drywall.
The builder for the homes on Chanticleer is Dick Ashe. He's the owner and president of American Eastern, Inc.
WAVY.com made several attempts to get a comment from Ashe. He eventually said through his secretary he wouldn't "because of active lawsuits."
Simpson is now suing Ashe. She has a contract she never signed that would have let American Eastern replace the Chinese drywall with American drywall, vacuum, and paint.
In 2009, there were no guidelines for fixing the homes, but Simpson was skeptical about Ashe's approach.
"We were to release him from all liability. And furthermore we were to pay him 20-thousand dollars each for this remediation work," she explained.
In April of this year, the Consumer Product Safety Commission set guidelines. In addition to removing problematic drywall, the CPSC said all electrical components, wiring, and gas piping should be replaced.
Renter Radcliff contacted her property manager after the illnesses she experienced.
According to Radcliff, "She emailed me back and said yes indeed the home had had Chinese drywall and it had been remediated properly. And that evening the builder showed up, Mr. Dick Ashe and told me that it had been thoroughly remediated."
But Radcliff feared Ashe repaired her rental unit without replacing all of the gas piping and wiring. So, with the help of an attorney, she sent samples to two independent labs for testing.
Reports from the labs show her samples share characteristics of "contaminated Chinese drywall."
Radcliff tried to take the reports to Ashe when she saw him in the now vacant home she rented.
Radcliff knocks on his door. "It's not looking like he's going to come to the door," she said, as WAVY.com waited with her and her son.
"This is the positive test showing that the home does indeed have Chinese drywall, from two separate companies." Radcliff said. "I just wanted to show him these positive test results because I can't receive a response from him by telephone."
Even though she moved out months ago, Radcliff kept paying rent until she received the results. Now with a few months left on her lease and a pile of medical bills, she hopes Ashe will answer to a judge.
"I'm just going to move forward with legal action."
While the lawsuits accumulate, there is a lot information available for families to protect themselves from renting or buying a home with defective Chinese drywall.
One section of a Consumer Information Form provided by the Real Estate Information Network, Inc. to its’ broker and real estate agent members for their optional use with customers and clients is as follows:
"DEFECTIVE DRYWALL: Homes built or renovated between the years of 2004 and 2008 may have been constructed partially or wholly, using defective drywall imported from China or other sources. Such defective drywall may release a sulfur-like smell or may cause corrosion of electrical coils and wiring. Purchasers are advised to take such steps as they deem appropriate to determine the absence or presence of such defective drywall. The Virginia Department of Health recommends contacting the home’s builder if you suspect Chinese drywall in your home. Individuals may also call the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s toll-free consumer hotline at 1-800-638-2772 or the Virginia Department of Health at (804) 864-8182 for more information."
The Defective Drywall disclosure