Homeowners Alarmed as Walls Crack

HOUSTON (CN) - Eleven suburban Houston homeowners claim in court that their houses are falling apart, with cracked walls, plumbing problems and doors that won't close, because they were built on shifting faults the developer said nothing about.
     Lead plaintiffs David and Carol Welchon sued The Woodlands Land Development Company, a subsidiary of The Howard Hughes Corp., in Harris County Court.
     The Woodlands, pop. 93,847, is 32 miles north of Houston.
     "Established in 1974, The Woodlands is a 28,000-acre planned community designed and developed by TWLDC and its affiliates. TWLDC planned and developed various communities within The Woodlands, including residential, retail and commercial zones and lots," the complaint states.
     The town includes 7,000 acres of green space, 127 parks, seven golf courses, greenbelts and protected forest, according to the howardhughes.com website.
     The Welchons say in the lawsuit that they were persuaded to buy a home in The Woodlands by the developer's slick advertisements.
     "As an example, via defendant's website, defendant made at least the following representations, all of which are untrue: that The Woodlands was an award-winning 'master planned' community - one that had won awards for its 'responsible' development, that it was a hometown for now and in the future, that the defendant had a commitment to quality, that defendant's success had been in part for 'good urban planning,' that the development was 'carefully' and 'thoughtfully planned,'" the complaint states.
     But the plaintiffs say they knew something was wrong with their homes when their walls started cracking.
     "The plaintiffs investigated and recently determined the cause of the problems was that the houses were all sitting on either the Big Barn Fault, the Jones Fault or the Panther Branch Fault lines," the complaint states.
     Further investigation revealed the developer "knew or should have known of the existence of the faults" because it commissioned a geological study of the area before building, the Welchons say.
     "At no time did TWLDC disclose to the plaintiffs the existence or possible existence of any faults, under or in the vicinity of the properties before they purchased," the homeowners say.
     The Welchons add that "time is of the essence in resolving this case" because the shifting earth is putting stress on the homes' water and gas lines.
     The homeowners seek more than $1 million damages for deceptive trade, breach of warranty, negligence and fraud.
     They are represented by Chad Gauntt with Gauntt, Earl & Binney of The Woodlands.
     The Woodlands Land Development Company did not respond to a request for comment.
     According to the U.S. Geological Service's Earthquake Hazards Program the chances of a significant earthquake in the Houston area are slim to none.
     The largest recorded earthquake in Texas was a magnitude 5.8 near Valentine in 1931.
     Valentine is 632 miles west of Houston.