Viva Las Villa!

Builder Paul Lambert's dream house is the hit of the show homes, but homebuyers and creditors are raining on his parade.

Lambert insists he provides an extraordinary level of customer service; his sales literature boasts that Dorian's warranty service and followup was rated tops in the business by an independent survey. It's unfair, Lambert says, to focus on a handful of malcontents when the vast majority of his buyers are delighted with their homes. "There are always certain issues," he says. "Some people will take a magnifying glass to the house, and some people are never satisfied."

Hallett's complaint is particularly surprising, Lambert says, because his superintendent, Larry Mitchell, made numerous visits to Hallett's house over the course of the warranty period. (Mitchell confirms this; he says he hasn't heard from Hallett for months and was under the impression that all the problems had been resolved.) Hallett says that Mitchell was "somewhat sympathetic" but told him that many of his problems were "maintenance" issues rather than construction defects.

"Here we are, three months into a new home, and water's pouring through," Hallett says. "But he said it's up to the homeowner to maintain the windows and caulk them regularly. I'd been in there ninety days, and I'm supposed to caulk these picture windows that are thirty feet off the ground?"

John Johnston
Up at the villa: The backyard pedestal lineup.
John Johnston
Up at the villa: The backyard pedestal lineup.

Lambert says he's aware of one other home on the block with leaky windows, and his people have made several trips to resolve that problem as well. "I do have a problem with one homeowner who's been really awful," he says. "He's the one who yelled and screamed at the Devlyns...I see my homeowners as my kids. If someone acts really bad, I'm not the type to stop him. I put him on the end of my list, like a bad-acting kid. The kids who act good, I reward them. There's only one homeowner on that street who's really, really bad, and I won't return his calls."

Also low on Lambert's list are Calvin and Maggie Stover, who bought a Dorian home on South Kittiwake Street from its first owner in 1998 -- the same block to which Lambert himself moved following his divorce. In 1999, the Stovers' sewer began to back up, flooding their basement three times in fourteen months. Plumbers who inspected the line told the couple that their sewer line had been improperly installed, resulting in a "negative slope" that would cost thousands to repair.

Although the warranty period for the house had expired years before, the Stovers claimed that the problem was a construction defect and contacted Dorian Homes for relief. The couple says Lambert responded with a message on their answering machine: "You can write me as many letters as you want. You can write me 8,000 letters, but I am still not taking care of them, because the problem is not covered under warranty."

Last year the Stovers filed suit against Dorian and Lambert, representing themselves in the lawsuit. "Most people don't sue their builder because it costs so much to hire a lawyer," Maggie Stover says. "The cost exceeds the repair. I was told in my case that a lawyer would cost me $80,000 and up."

Although he lived down the street from them, just serving notice of the suit on Lambert was "quite a challenge," Maggie says. "I knew he wouldn't answer the door. He would just look out the window. But he parks all his cars outside, so I parked my car close to his BMW and went to the door and said, 'I hit your car.' He ran to his car, and my friend served him with the papers."

In oddly worded filings prepared by Maggie, a Romanian immigrant, the Stovers claimed various damages as a result of their sewer problem: "Plaintiffs are still sustaining damages from the hidden defect of their house, especially stress because they currently cannot use the toilets for pooping." Dorian's lawyers denied that the problem was a result of improper installation and were successful in getting most of the Stovers' claims dismissed. Ultimately, the case went to mediation, and the Stovers received a modest cash settlement.

Lambert says that the case was "completely unreasonable" and that the Stovers were simply trying to extract cash from him. "My warranty company paid them $2,000 to get rid of them because they were such a complete nuisance," he says. "I had all the engineering to prove I was 100 percent right, that there was positive slope."

But the Stovers insist they were in the right. "They tried to say things like, 'Well, your foundation shifted and the pipe rose,'" says Calvin Stover. "That was bogus. You'd see cracks in the foundation if that was the case."

"For one year, we had to poop in bags," adds Maggie. "It was a pretty horrible year."

As for Hugh Devlyn, he's had a few uneasy moments himself since he put down a $30,000 deposit for a Dorian home on Dacre Place. Following his encounter with Hallett and other residents of the block, he met with Lambert to discuss the complaints he'd heard. "Paul said there were some nuts on that street and he was going to get a restraining order against one guy," Devlyn recalls. "He made a good case that there are two sides to every story."

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