A California-based development firm has sued an Arlington man for $2 million, charging that he encouraged buyers in one of the firm's condominium complexes here to make "false and excessive claims" against the company.
The man being sued, Elliott B. Jaffa, says he wrote a letter offering to help residents spot problems in their homes before the end of the one-year warranty period offered by the developer, The Anden Group. Jaffa's attorney, George Shapiro of Alexandria, said his client was providing a service that "was needed by the community." Jaffa, a behavioral psychologist, said he and many other owners of the Anden townhouses found an unusual number of defects in their homes during the warranty period and that the developer was either slow or unwilling to repair them.
In addition, Anden employes changed frequently, and homeowners had to start over with new people in pressing their requests for repairs, Jaffa said.
Several other homeowners who were interviewed agreed. One, Jay Kenkel, who moved into a $90,000, three-bedroom townhouse in the spring of 1980, said that by the end of the warranty period, the developer had not repaired all of the defects Kenkel first reported six months earlier. Kenkel said he eventually "threw up my arms in despair," and that some problems were never corrected.
Another homeowner, Norman Starler, complained that "it took 2 1/2 years" to correct defects in his $83,000, two-bedroom home. "The biggest problem was floors," he said. "They Anden built the first 50 units with an underlay of particle board and it had to be replaced in 46 out of the 50 units."
Patrick Apodaca, who said he was among the earliest buyers of homes in Windgate I in 1979, said he also had floor problems because the builder "used nails instead of screws . . . and used particle board instead of plywood." He cited other defects including "uneven walls, unlevel floors, uneven counter tops in the kitchen," and said Anden was slow to correct them.
Jaffa, who owns a townhouse in Anden's Windgate I development, which is located on South Walter Reed Drive in Arlington, said he sent the letter advertising his services to about 125 residents in another Anden project across the street, Windgate II, on Arlington Mill Drive. His charge per home was $100, Jaffa said.
The developer counters that the letter was "a direct effort to take reprisals against Anden for their failure to repair his carpeting," according to the company's attorney, John Sabourin of Alexandria.
The lawyer provided a copy of a letter from Jaffa to Richard A. Wilkinson, Anden division president in Falls Church, in which Jaffa wrote that he "was very disappointed in your decision not to replace my downstairs carpeting at this time. . . ." The letter also announced Jaffa's intention to offer his services to fellow homeowners and ended: "I am aiming for a target date of May 3 to begin the direct mail solicitation of clients for my new venture should I not hear from the Anden Group before this time."
In the court papers, the builders charged that "willful, wanton, false and malicious statements were made by Mr. Jaffa to current owners of condominium units at Anden projects for the purpose of intentionally inducing the unit owners to breach and violate their contractual relations with Anden." The developer said that Jaffa made similar statements to prospective purchasers "for the purpose of intentionally inducing or otherwise causing these persons not to" buy homes from Anden.
Wilkinson said the problems with particle board installed under the floors in Windgate I resulted from a manufacturers' defect, and that the defective flooring was replaced. Wilkinson said the complaints by Kenkel, Starler and Apodaca about poor workmanship and delays in correcting defects concerned events that took place before he became the Anden division chief. He said "Anden is very consumer-conscious and makes every effort to please customers."
The division president also said that Anden two weeks ago "signed an agreement with the homeowners board of directors for Windgate I. . . . They are satisfied" with the development.
The Anden Group is made up of two general partners, Miden Corp. of California and the Klingbeil Group Inc. of Ohio, according to court documents. The Arlington projects are the group's first venture in the Washington area, Wilkinson said. About 450 units of 549 planned have been completed in three subdivisions, named Windgate I, II and III. Another development adjacent to the Windgate buildings, called Court Bridge, will contain 234 homes when completed, with about 100 finished or under construction now, Wilkinson said. Anden owns a tract of land on the other side of the Windgate developments, but no plans have been made for it yet, he said.
The letter Jaffa mailed to Windgate II homeowners was dated May 4 and said that "as a resident of Windgate I, I had over 125 items to be repaired and/or corrected on my own one-year list. . . . To have my own home brought up to snuff was a six-month successful process. . . . All but one of the items was resolved to my satisfaction. The reason I am writing you is to solicit you as a client when you are ready to prepare your one-year list."
Jaffa said he was hired by four homeowners as a result of his May 4 letter, and that he "found from 60 to 80 things wrong" in each of the four condominiums. He has no intention of going out of business, said Jaffa, and in fact sent out another letter in early December to the same group of homeowners. In the second offering, he added the comment that "I must be doing something right because your developer has sued me for $2 million."
Homes in Windgate I and II were priced from $69,000 to $130,000, Jaffa said.
The case is expected to go to trial in Arlington County circuit court next summer, according to attorneys.
Despite the dispute with Jaffa, the developer "plans to be here for many, many years and to build many more developments," said Anden division president Wilkinson.