Broward County residents demand lower taxes on homes with Chinese drywall; only Parkland homes received break

Aug 4, 2009

Although defective Chinese drywall is plaguing houses throughout Broward County, only homeowners in Parkland received a discount in their new property tax assessments.

The Property Appraiser’s Office thought the problem was largely isolated to Parkland when it was putting the final touches on the tax roll late this spring. The agency is now lowering the taxable values on homes in other cities if the owners can document they have the contaminated drywall.

Pompano Beach resident Joan Glickman has been demanding equal treatment on her townhouse and was irate when she recently learned about the breaks in Parkland. She wants her home’s $438,000 tax value dropped in light of its corroding electrical wiring, air conditioning system problems and bad odors.

“It seems like there is preferential treatment in Broward County, and it should be even-steven,” said Glickman, who paid $10,000 in taxes last year. “There shouldn’t be different standards for the same problem.”

Property Appraiser Lori Parrish promises to deal with all homes with the drywall in the same fashion, but she said the issue has been a quickly evolving one for both her office and other property appraisers around the state. Recent estimates are that as many as 36,000 homes in Florida may contain defective wallboard. It’s unknown how many Broward County homes are affected.

The first complaints in Broward arose in late March and early April from Parkland, where city officials joined members of Congress and county commissioners to highlight the extent of the problem there. Most of the complaints have involved homes built during the housing boom from 2002 to 2006 when there was a shortage of materials and builders began using imports.

The defective drywall can give off a sulfurous odor, tarnish metals and ruin appliances and electronics by corroding pipes and wires. Some homeowners insist the drywall is making them sick, causing nosebleeds, headaches, sore throats and respiratory issues.

“We had no idea how expansive it was,” Parrish said. “We knew about Parkland, but it’s everywhere.”

Broward County’s tax roll fell 11 percent this year, from $166.4 billion to $148.8 billion, because of the collapse of the real estate market. The tax value of Parkland property dropped further than anywhere else in Broward, declining 17 percent from $3.7 billion to $3.1 billion.

Parrish’s office wants homeowners with defective drywall to submit proof such as a letter from their builder, insurance claim or an inspection report in order to qualify for a reduced value. The agency has dealt with about 85 cases so far, but expects more after it mails out preliminary tax notices next month and as more homeowners discover drywall problems.

With Parkland, the Property Appraiser’s Office reduced the value of about 400 homes by 15 percent because of defective drywall. The office did a comparison of sales between similar neighborhoods in Parkland and Weston to determine the extent of the impact on real estate prices.

There is no uniform standard for fixing the homes. But Miami-based Lennar Corp. recently set aside an average of $99,500 per home to repair ones it built with the drywall.

Mike Ryan, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer who represents homeowners with defective drywall, said property appraisers should drop tax values even further. He said too much weight is given to the repair cost, whereas the homes have limited value because few are willing to buy them.

“These homes are virtually unsalable,” Ryan said. “Realtors are not getting any bites.”

But Joe Zdanowicz, the head of Parrish’s appraisal division, said he believes the values must be reduced largely based on the cost of repair unless some state or federal agency were to decide that the homes are uninhabitable. Health agencies have been investigating but have yet to determine whether the wallboard poses a health risk.