Couple emerges from ‘Chinese drywall’ nightmare
With more than 10,000 people in America claiming that defective “Chinese drywall” was installed in their home, one Cape Coral couple’s fight is over.
In July 2006, Richard and Patti Kampf moved into their new house, at 233 S.E. 44th Terrace. About two years later, after replacing another corroded air conditioner coil, they discovered that defective drywall had been used.
“We were the first family in Lee County that found out,” Richard Kampf said.
“It was extremely traumatic,” he added.
A former employee with the Environmental Protection Agency, he found himself on the other side of the glass for the first time in his life.
“But I also knew who to call and what to do about it,” he said.
According to Kampf, there were about two dozen companies that supplied the defective drywall. While most of the companies are owned by the Chinese government, one of the suppliers is a German-owned company called Knauf.
“As a German-owned company, they had produced drywall using this mine,” he said, explaining that the defective drywall has a high sulphur element.
The sulphur compounds attack mainly metal, especially copper and silver. It leads to corroded appliances, light fixtures, electrical workings and more.
“We lost six (air conditioner) coils in a three-year period,” Kampf said.
“It eats away at the motherboard of your computer,” he added. “It eats away at the components of your television.”
With no help from the state or federal governments – FEMA denied a petition for aid for homeowners from the office of former Gov. Charlie Crist on the basis that the petition was not filed specifically by Crist, as required by FEMA’s regulations – the couple looked to themselves for a solution.
In late 2010 and into early 2011, Kampfs took $125,000 out of their own pocket, gutted the residence back to the studs and rebuilt. Everything in the home was tossed and replaced – bedding, furniture, appliances and such.
“This was extremely painful for us,” Kampf said. “It’s extremely disappointing that our federal system and state system has not helped.”
“This drywall has been distributed to 42 states,” he added.
Others have had to short sale their home, been forced into foreclosure, or have had to walk away.
Cape homeowner Joyce W. Defrancesco and her husband, Richard, are two victims who have found themselves between a rock and a hard place.
Now in their 70s, the couple had their home at 2218 S.W. Embers Terrace built in 2006. Because her husband is disabled and uses a power scooter, they spent extra money to have it designed to accommodate his disability.
“We had our home special built,” Joyce Defrancesco said.
Within a few months, the couple realized something was not right.
“Neither of us felt good,” she said, adding that their stove exploded at Christmas time during the first year.
A phone call from Kampf, who had gotten the Defrancescos’ information from their home builder, began to shed some light on the situation as they compared notes. A check of the electrical outlets showed black corrosion.
A piece of drywall from Taishan, a Chinese supplier, was found in the attic.
Since then, they have gone through two scooters – the one her husband used in their old home lasted five years. The television has gone out, two air conditioner coils needed replacing and faucets and mirrors have blackened.
They have lost two computers and a washer.
“It affects a lot of things you least expect,” Defrancesco said.
“I live every day wondering if it’s going to happen again,” she added.
Hearing the Kampfs’ story, the couple thought they could maybe renovate their home and fix the problem. They were given the estimate of $94,000 to do the work, but could only get approved by their bank for a $43,000 loan.
“We didn’t have all this cash to turn around and turn into money,” Defrancesco said. “We had no way of raising other money.”
“We’re still living in it because we can’t go anywhere,” she added.
Defrancesco explained that this was the first new home that she and her husband had, and they built it expecting it would be their dream home.
“We just watch day by day. Something happens every day,” she said. “I am literally at the point where I just don’t know which way to turn.”
Fortunate to have been able to rid themselves of their destructive drywall, the Kampfs were also lucky – if that is the right word – in the type of drywall installed in their home. One hundred percent of the defective drywall used was supplied through Knauf.
A U.S. District Court judge in Louisiana, who is overseeing a multi-district litigation related to the defective Chinese drywall, determined that Knauf should be held accountable to those affected by the drywall it supplied.
In October, a settlement involving $1 billion was proposed.
Under the settlement, a Knauf-appointed contractor can fix a home in 90 days or less at no cost to the homeowner. The homeowner will get about $9 per square foot to use toward utilities, moving expenses, temporary housing and such.
In a second scenario, the homeowner can hire their own contractor.
Finally, victims can turn over their house to Knauf for a reduced payment.
Kampf said the settlement is expected to be finalized in November.
“We were fortunate to have all of the drywall in our home Knauf,” he said.
After about 14 months, and having to show significant proof of what they did to fix their home, the Kampfs recently received their reimbursement.
“We were made near-whole,” he said, adding that he could not be specific.
Out of the 10,000 cases nationwide – approximately 1,500 in Lee County and 500 to 600 in the Cape – about 300 people who have remediated on their own, like the Kampfs, got 100 percent of their drywall from Knauf.
“There are less than 20 people nationwide who have been paid to date for reimbursements,” Kampf said.
He explained that the big issue that people do not realize is that many are under the impression that all victims will get money from the settlement.
“There’s only a small percentage of people who have gotten anything,” Kampf said. “This is five years after the fact that it was found.”
He expressed that he and his wife almost feel guilty.
“That’s a universe of extremely extremely difficult situations for people who likely will not see any money any time soon,” Kampf said.
For victims who have a mix of say Taishan and Knauf drywall, the German-owned company will only pay its share. For those who got all of their drywall from one of the others, there was little that could be done until recently.
“The German-owned company is the only one reimbursing,” he said. “And if you have a mix (of drywall), a lot of times you fall to the bottom.”
This week the same U.S. District Court judge ruled that the United States does have jurisdiction in the cases involving defective drywall provided by the Chinese-owned companies and found that the U.S. can sue those suppliers.
“I think the judge is going to try to pursue lawsuits,” Kampf said.
“That’s the only recourse they have,” he added. “There’s nothing else in it for them.”
Victims like the Defrancescos are cautiously optimist.
“I don’t know if it will happen in our lifetime,” she said. “I’m praying it does, but I think it’ll be so far down the road.”
Defrancesco does know that she and her husband cannot continue as such.
“It’s definitely affected his breathing,” she said. “We can’t live indefinitely in this because I know we’re not feeling good.”
The couple is faced with the reality that they may have to sell.
“But our house is worth zero,” Defrancesco said.
“I don’t know where I go from here,” she added.
While the Kampfs’ fight for justice is over, the couple plans to continue advocating for victims like the Defrancescos. Over the years, they have created a network of local contacts, connecting to hubs in other areas.