John and Jacci Knouff first figured out there was something wrong with their house because of the cat box. They kept changing the litter, yet every time they walked in, it smelled like they'd forgotten it for a week. "There were times at the beginning when we just had changed the litter and I'd think, 'God! It smells terrible in here,'" John recalls.
That was in December 2006, when the couple first bought their three-bedroom, three-and-a-half bath townhome in the Coconut Creek development of Julia Gardens. After a few months, they realized it wasn't the cats making the place stink. But the cause would escape them for a few months.
Like as many as 30,000 homeowners in Florida, the Knouffs now know that their home was built with defective Chinese drywall. Lawsuits are making their way through the courts against developers and manufacturers.
Meanwhile, homeowners are trying to figure out if the drywall that's eating through copper wires in electronics is also making them sick. But few stories of the people who suffer from this stuff have been told, so the Juice will dedicate space to a few of them over the next few months.
The Knouffs finally figured out they had Chinese drywall earlier this year after hearing news reports about the stuff. John crawled up in the attic and looked down at the walls below. Printed on the back was the word "Tianjin," the city in China that manufactured the bad drywall.
The couple got an attorney, Chinese drywall expert Allison Grant of Boca Raton. Grant first tried to get the developer or the lender to fix the home. But so far, no luck. "I'm trying everything, and they're not listening," Grant said.
Julia Gardens developer Standard Pacific Homes has been unwilling to work with the couple. The Knouffs didn't threaten lawsuits or demand big-money settlements -- they just asked that Standard Pacific move them in to one of the unsold townhomes in the 112-unit development until their place can be fixed. John said that only about a third of the townhomes in Julia Gardens are believed to have Chinese drywall, and the new units were built with good drywall. But Standard Pacific wouldn't budge. "They've basically said tough luck," John said.
I reached Standard Pacific CFO John Stevens at his office in Irvine, California. Stevens said: "We're investigating the problem and looking for solutions, but I can't comment at this time." As for the Knouffs, he said: "They should continue to call."
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The Knouffs have also tried to work with their lender, JP Morgan Chase. They hoped the international banking conglomerate could see its way into forgiving their mortgage for a few months while the place gets fixed up. That would allow the Knouffs to afford a rental property.
Nancy Norris, a spokeswoman for JP Morgan Chase, said the bank was "going to reach out to the customer and see" about options. Somebody from Chase did call the Knouffs afterward, but so far, nothing has been done to help them.
As if things weren't already bad for the Knouffs, John lost his job recently. He was the beverage manager for a country club in Boca Raton. They're now living off his wife's salary as a nurse. And the stress? It's constant.
"The stress and tension is incredible every day. I don't want to say I'm sitting by the phone, but I keep wondering if somebody is going to do anything to help us? At the end of the day, I know it's all about money."