More homes in Woodland Hills subdivision lack occupancy certificates; some failed inspection
Last week, Statesman Watch featured an Austin couple who discovered their new home doesn’t have the certificate of occupancy that the city requires — following a final inspection — before a house can legally be inhabited. Statesman Watch has since learned that the couple have a lot of company: As many as 40 of the approximately 170 homes that have been finished in Centex Homes’ Woodland Hills subdivision don’t have a certificate of occupancy.
Girija Shanmugam and her husband, Shanmugam Sambasivam, discovered they were missing the certificate about the same time they learned that the Centex home they bought in 2007 was built on a former stock pond that the builder had filled in (after receiving a city permit to do so). The couple say the house has been plagued by faulty plumbing, and water sometimes collects in their front yard and driveway after it rains or when neighbors on higher ground water their lawns.
Now, according to city records, Centex — which merged with Pulte Homes last year — has more permitting problems in the subdi-
Continued from B vision off FM 969, east of U.S. 183. Thirty homes have expired building permits and, therefore, could not receive a certificate of occupancy. A Pulte official said the number of finished homes without the certificates could be as high as 40 in the first phase of the planned 580-home community.
“We are taking full responsibility to see this through, and it may take us three to four weeks,” said Valerie Dolenga, spokeswoman for the Pulte Group. The company is working with the city’s Planning and Development Review Department to bring all the homes into compliance. The Woodland Hills homes either failed final inspection or the building permits expired, according to city records.
Girija Shanmugam and Shanmugam Sambaivam are questioning who was responsible for providing the certificate of occupancy at closing when they bought the home. Their lender was Centex Mortgage, and the title company was Commerce Title, also a subsidiary of the builder, Centex Homes.
Commerce Title referred questions to Dolenga.
“We take responsibility,” Dolenga said. “I don’t know who has a check box (at closing), but ultimately, it’s the responsibility of the builder.”
The Texas Department of Insurance oversees title companies in the state. Agency spokesman John Greeley said he doesn’t know whose responsibility it is — the title company or the builder — to bring the certificate to the table at closing. “But a certificate of occupancy ordinarily would not be a title insurance issue,” he said. “It’s the lender who requires title insurance.”
Betsy Bird, spokeswoman for the Texas Real Estate Commission, said that if the couple had used a real estate agent or broker — someone representing their interests at closing — the problem probably would have been spotted.
“A licensee would have asked for a certificate of occupancy, and the builder should have provided it. And if it could not be produced, a licensee might have advised the homebuyer not to buy the property,” she said.
“Is the transaction legal?” asked Girija Shanmugam, who has asked the builder for a refund or to provide them a new home without water issues. The builder has declined to do so but vowed to address all their concerns and has extended their plumbing warranty.
“I don’t know,” Dolenga said. “I can ask our attorneys.”
Though Dolenga acknowledges the importance of the certificate of occupancy, she said that doesn’t mean the home is “not structurally sound and livable.”
Wendy Morgan, a spokeswoman for the Planning and Development Review Department, which handles building permits, said the transaction is legal, despite the missing certificate of occupancy.
“It’s my understanding the (certificate of occupancy) for a property does not affect ownership status,” Morgan said. “It affects occupancy status and whether that property is legally occupied. The property owner needs to work with the city to bring it into compliance.”
Technically, the couple are illegally living in their home, Morgan said.
“Yes, we could ask them to vacate, but no one is doing that,” Morgan said. “The builder is working with us to rectify the problem.”
The couple’s concerns got the attention of Chris Werth, division president of Pulte Homes in Central Texas, who visited the couple late last week.
“He asked us what we wanted. I asked him what he was going to give us,” Girija Shanmugam said. “He asked about our problems, and I told him everything. I told him we hired a private engineer to check our house and foundation and his report conflicts with a report from the builder.”
Dolenga said the meeting was fruitful, and Werth has offered to pay for the private engineer. He will meet with the couple later this month to resolve any outstanding issues, she said.
“He told me to trust him and that we’re safe,” Girija Shanmugam said. “I don’t know.”
Shanmugam Sambasivam, left, and Girija Shanmugam have met with the division president of Pulte Homes to discuss their complaints.
Shanmugam Sambasivam and Girija Shanmugam found out their home was built on the site of a filled-in stock pond, and have said plumbing problems and standing water are causing damage.