After a day and a half of deliberations, a jury Thursday found the developer of Heron’s Landing negligent and awarded the Beach Boulevard condo homeowners association $9.6 million Thursday.

 

Residents and experts testified the Beach Boulevard structures violate Florida building code, and are riddled with defects, including cracked stucco, leaking roofs, and failing windows and sliding glass doors.

Attorneys say the damage amounts to $9 million, or nearly $38,000 per condo.

DR Horton, the nation’s largest home builder, denied the claim. Its attorneys say the condos are fine and that any defects are isolated or insignificant. The company also said the condo owner association failed to properly maintain the buildings, contributing to their condition.

The case featured thousands of exhibits and dozens of witnesses, including some prominent residents. Fifth District State Attorney Brad King testified that a condo he bought for his college aged children in lieu of a rental had extensive leaks, plumbing failures and stucco problems.

Magistrate John Sampson, who typically presides over Duval County Drug Court, also serves as president of the Heron’s Landing Condo Association Board. He testified the problems were extensive — and compared it to a “cancer.”

“The more we discovered the more there was,” Sampson told the jury. “It just kept growing and growing.”

DR Horton Executive VP and Chief Operating Officer John Zakoske defended the company’s construction. “It makes more sense for us to give you a good product and have you refer your friends and family, your coworkers to us.” he told the jury.

“We can sell them a home or sell you your next home. It’s just good business We really don’t do that much advertising so we rely on word of mouth and our reputation in the community to sell houses and stay in business.”

Circuit Judge James Daniel told jurors Tuesday they had to determine three things: if the buildings violate state building code, whether the plaintiffs were damaged by that, and if DR Horton knew or should have known about the violations.

More than a dozen condo owners and two dozen DR Horton supporters attended Tuesday’s closing arguments. The case is an extremely rare airing of structural defect claims.

Virtually all new home contracts require that defect clams be handled in secret arbitration proceedings. In this case, the condo association — rather than the individual homeowners — sued, contending it isn’t bound by contracts signed by homeowners.

Despite the length of the 36-day trial, the six jurors and three alternates remained attentive.

Heron’s Landing attorney Barry Ansbacher presented his closing arguments Tuesday morning, telling jurors DR Horton chose “speed and greed” over quality construction.

“Just do it right,” he said, evoking their motto, “America’s largest homebuilder.” He asked the jury to award $9 million to repair the buildings.

DR Horton attorney Robert Carlson began his closing arguments after lunch.

“We aren’t going to demonize the home owners,” he said. “We like the homeowners. In fact, we would like them to buy another home from DR Horton and think at the end of this trial they might because they are performing fine.”