Due to a shortage of U.S. manufactured drywall between 2004 and 2007, many builders were forced to buy drywall imported from China. The "Chinese drywall" has been linked to seeping sulfide gases that can corrode electrical wiring and components of air-conditioning and other household appliances. Some residents have been forced to move from their homes, and a few builders in Florida have begun gutting homes and replacing the drywall.
The potential scope of the problem is huge. In Florida alone, an estimated 36,000 homes are believed to contain Chinese-made drywall. It is estimated that between 60,000 and 100,000 homes nationwide may contain this tainted drywall.
The Florida Department of Health (DOH) has received numerous complaints about drywall that has polluted homes with a $quot;rotten-egg" smell. The agency is currently identifying and assessing potential human health hazards related to the phenomenon of rapid and recurring corrosion of metals inside homes. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has also sent requests to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) asking for help with problems attributed to tainted Chinese drywall. Governor Crist is specifically asking that the federal agencies help Florida develop chemical testing strategies for homes that are experiencing severe copper corrosion.
U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA) have filed two bills relating to this issue. S. RES. 91 is an effort to press the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) for a recall of Chinese-made drywall, based in part on findings by a Florida homebuilder and state officials who have confirmed the presence of sulfide gases in homes built with the drywall. S. 739, the Drywall Safety Act, would require the CPSC to work with federal testing labs and the EPA to determine the level of hazard posed by certain chemicals and as yet unidentified organic compounds in the drywall. In addition, the legislation calls on the commission to issue an interim ban on imports until it can create federal drywall safety standards so consumers are protected in the future.
Nelson and Landrieu say they’re pressing the CPSC for a recall in the hope of jump-starting a process for helping affected homeowners with the costs of repairs or replacement. Under their legislation, manufacturers would be responsible for these costs.
U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL) sent a letter to Governor Crist requesting the Governor declare a state of emergency over the problem. A spokesperson for Governor Crist has stated that he is not clear what practical effect a state of emergency declaration would have at this time.
Several federal class action lawsuits have been filed, including claims against U.S. homebuilder Lennar, Banner Supply Company, Chinese drywall manufacturer Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin and the foreign company that distributed that company’s drywall within the United States, Rothchilt International Ltd. Attorneys who filed one of the lawsuits say they estimate homes in 13 states are believed to have defective Chinese drywall. They anticipate that when the Consumer Products Safety Commission completes its investigation, this could be potentially one of the largest product liability cases related to home construction in U.S. history.
Like any condition that could materially affect the value of a property, the presence of defective Chinese drywall triggers the need for an affirmative disclosure of its presence. No one expects real estate professionals to conduct home inspections or recognize signs that a home may contain this material. However, if a homeowner is aware of the presence of this material, they as well as the real estate professional must disclose it. It is important to understand that not all Chinese drywall is defective and not all defective drywall is from China. The extent of the problem is still being researched.