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Home Sour Home

What happens when a Republican homemaker goes up against an elusive construction company, a faceless bureaucracy, and the whole housing-industrial complex?

For Jordan Fogal, that service felt more like a kind of torture. There were times when she was so "flusterated" by her builder's emissaries, she wanted to "just grab them and choke them till their eyeballs pop out." The company completed some repairs, such as the drain in the whirlpool and the upside-down window, but more often the routine went like this: Jordan would report a problem, Stature would decline to help, and she would decline to accept that they would not help: "How dare you," she'd write in one of many, many letters. Eventually, an appointment would be made for an inspection, but then no one would show. Jordan would call and be told the inspector was coming the next day at 8 a.m., and then, at the appointed time, she would be told that they were coming at 2 p.m. Again she would wait, and they wouldn't come but would later insist they had and that no one had been home. When the builders' inspector finally did appear, Jordan would be told that the water spots were just paint curing, that there was no mildew, that the rust-streaked cracks in the stucco were just settlement cracks. "They would talk to me as if I were an illiterate, inferior, stupid woman who didn't understand construction—and I didn't. But I knew water was running out of my house, and the Scarecrow could have known that without his brain."

The Fogals hired their own inspectors, who found serious roofing problems and "widespread and growing accumulation of moisture" in walls and ceilings; when one inspector drilled a hole in the wall, she recalls, water came draining out, and rotten wood was on the bit. An estimate for the full repair of the Fogals' house would be put at $199,900. In April 2004, Casimiro offered repairs, which, nine months later, Thibodeau told the Houston Chronicle were worth between $2,000 and $5,000.

With her homebuyers' contract forbidding her from suing, Jordan filed a complaint against Tremont with the Better Business Bureau. The BBB said Tremont Homes was "doing business as" Stature but that Stature was no longer in business, according to Jordan, so the bureau couldn't help. She filed claims under her homebuyers' warranty (which turned her down for not following proper procedure), under her homeowners' insurance (which rejected her because its inspector found the house "deviates from the industry standards"), and under Stature's liability insurance (which said that it would cover property damaged by "these construction defects," but not the defects themselves). Jordan went to the district attorney's office, the state attorney general, the Texas Department of Insurance—nothing.

"No one understood what you were talking about, or they were just no help," Jordan says. "I had no one to talk to in the beginning, not even my husband."

At night, Bob would tell her she was simply exaggerating; it couldn't be as bad as all that. He's "very patriotic," she explains, and he couldn't accept that "in America, land of the free, home of the brave, no one would help, especially when you didn't do anything wrong." Jordan tried to tell him that "Texas is just like a communist state: You expect to have somewhere to go with your problem, but there's nowhere to go."

She went again to her builder. She carried with her the report of yet another inspection, and perhaps it was clear that she just might convince a jury. Thibodeau, in any case, said he would fix her house. But a week passed. And now mold was taking over, spotting the carpet, outlining pictures on the wall. Jordan read on the Internet that certain molds could cause brain abscesses and inhibit cell division, that her home was now not merely uncomfortable but, according to her doctor, unsafe.

In this frame of mind, she wrote Thibodeau, "Do we have to die?" He didn't answer.

At about that time, in September, HOBB's Ahmad connected Jordan with another Houston homeowner, Carla Bistrick, whose experience was so similar to hers, Bistrick finally asked Jordan where she lived. "Oh my God!" Bistrick exclaimed, for she, too, had been the owner of a house in Hyde Park Crescent. It, too, had filled with water. Only after Bistrick began giving tours to prospective buyers in the neighborhood had she convinced the builder—just before the Fogals arrived—to buy back her house.

Bistrick had one more bit of news for Jordan: In making her case, she had photographed homes in the neighborhood, including unit No. 34, which appeared to have mold and water damage and, though brand new, was already under repair. The Fogals' house, their beautiful house, had been infested even before she bought it. Jordan immediately dialed Thibodeau. She was crying as she demanded he buy back her house, too. "You knew what you were doing when you sold us this house."

Thibodeau replied that buying houses was really not his particular game, and then he did what probably no one should ever do to Jordan Fogal. He hung up.

LAWYERS FOR CASIMIRO and Thibodeau were reluctant to speak to Mother Jones. "The commitment to social justice," explained Thibodeau's attorney Charles Turet, "is something that gives lawyers heartburn—not that we don't like social justice," he was quick to add. "But there's a theme there that's"—he paused again—"unfavorable to corporate clients."

Casimiro would not return phone calls; Thibodeau did, but was at first disinclined to speak. "Put it this way," he said, "I'm a builder, and I don't expect to be treated fairly by any media, because it's always ‘poor consumer.'"

There were, in fact, a number of Thibodeau customers who considered themselves poor consumers. Last year, four of the buyers in the Fogals' 44-home subdivision gathered in a lawsuit, all alleging the builder "did not install flashing at critical locations," with an "enormous amount of resulting damage." Other neighbors found water in their homes but chose to pay for leak repairs themselves, because it didn't seem worth a fight, and Kerri Kirsch's family, who also found rain pouring in, fled in disgust to Arizona after a long legal battle with Casimiro.

Jordan didn't join the lawsuit, but she had no intention of surrendering to Thibodeau. "I wanted to show him," she says, "that no matter what he did to me, I was not going away."

And so, on that September day, about 10 minutes after hanging up on Jordan Fogal, Thibodeau received another call. It was a national consumer radio show, live on the air, wanting to know just what he had done to poor Mrs. Fogal.

That was just the beginning. Having moved to the apartment, taking the $368,564 mortgage with her, Jordan dedicated her life to exposing "the greatest travesty of justice" she had ever seen. "Home Builder Makes Home Buyer Homeless," her message went. And everything that had happened to her, everything she learned, she disseminated to anyone who might listen—reporters, the mayor, her state representatives, even the president of the United States. When she found out that a judge, to whose campaign Casimiro had contributed, had appointed Casimiro to three county boards, including the housing authority, she printed up fliers. She spoke at homeowners' rallies and before the Houston City Council. She showed the council pictures of the subdivision, described the mold and rotting materials, and explained how her builder appeared to be not a single company but a dozen.

Perhaps nothing she did had more effect than her regular appearance in front of the builders' new luxury condos, Tremont Tower. In her Chanel sunglasses and pink sweater, Jordan stood with pictures of her rotting house, a basket of lemons, and a sign that read, "Beware! Tremont Homes sold me a lemon!" Watching her on the corner in protest, Bob finally understood "why I hate arguing with that woman."

At first, she experienced a loneliness like she had never known. Neighbors, fretting over their property values, ceased to speak to her. Bob wouldn't join her. Every weekend afternoon—even Christmas and New Year's and several times in the rain—Jordan stood alone on the corner. She was initially afraid of the people she met out there—some black, some gay, some tattooed and pierced—but gradually realized that they were "some of the nicest people."

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