More than 100 homeowners in the Northview Estates subdivision of Bowie have complained to Prince George's County officials that their new Levitt Housing Corp.-built houses have defects and safety violations. Levitt, recently acquired by Starrett Housing Corp., is a major builder in the Washington area.
Northview residents have complained about such problems such as aluminum frame windows on which inside condensation freezes during winter. They also charge that the developer used deceptive advertising in describing some houses as having five bedrooms because wome rooms cannot comply with building codes for sleeping areas. Most of the houses are less than a year old.
After presenting their complaints to Levitt officials in this region early last month, the homeowners called a public meeting and invited representatives from the offices of the mayor, the county executive, state representatives, and the fire and safety inspectors.
This past week Levitt president Edward P. Eichler met with homeowners and officials and promised to continue correcting code violations in a steady and orderly way, according to Arthur W. Brown, the county's chief building inspector.
Eichler also pledged to take care of cosmetic defects under warranty and any other unwarrantied "aggravated" defects. He said the company would also remedy defects found by Northampton subdivision homeowners. He appointed a full time customer service representative for Bowie.
Back in 1971 similartly disgruntled homeowners from Amber Meadows in Bowie picketed a dinner honoring the firm's founder, William J. Levitt, as "the builder of Bowie."
The following year, a special investigating committee of the Bowie City Council found that half the homeowners in a Levitt development called Arcadia "experienced problems that were the direct result of shoddy workmanship." The committee recommended new measures to protect home buyers, including more building inspectors, better final building inspections, better Levitt workmanship and a consumer protection committee.
Six years later, there are five inspectors plus a supervisor in Bowie, but the complaints continue.
"It's the same old rigamarole," said George Norris Jr., a Prince George's County policeman in whose house the county inspector has spotted 29 building code violations. They range from no light switch in the garage to a lack of support under the front stoop to a faulty kitchen exhaust vent.
In 1972 the chief county inspector said he sympathized with the homeowners' complaints, but added that "people should expect many minor defects when they're buying a mass-produced home."
A Levitt spokesman denied that the company had cut corners and blamed the Nader consumer era for provoking the homeowners to go public with their complaints.
The Northview Estates houses, which sell in the $50,000 to $60,000 range, carry one-year warranties that cover major structural defects but not many of the problems the homeowners are seeking to remedy.
Sharon Scarselli, a Northview Estates resident, said she and her neighbors are determined that, unlike the Arcadia and Amber Meadows homeowners, they will not end up doing the work themselves. She said there were 16 or 17 homes in the subdivision that had no record of final inspection and no occupancy permits, as required by law.
Moreover, she said county inspectors refused to let homeowners know which violations and defects would be corrected.
Chief county inspector Arthur W. Brown acknowledged that he was investigating why those final inspections were not made and said the responsible on-site inspector had been disciplined. He denied Scarselli's other charge, however, and said lists of defects to be corrected would soon be sent to each household. Brown declined to set a deadline for repairs, but said his office would make inspections to see they were carried out.