There are lots of stories about people living in homes with Chinese drywall and being unsure who to blame. The developers blame the suppliers, who blame the Chinese manufacturers who built the defective wall board. But Christine Miller, she knows exactly who the bad guy is.
It's her landlord: State Sen. Dennis Jones.
Christine and husband Joe Miller entered into a lease-to-own deal with Jones a year ago for a four-bedroom, three-bath home in Cape Coral. They found out in December that the new home has Chinese drywall, which has caused the electrical system in the house to corrode so badly that half of the home lost power. They also blame constant headaches, nosebleeds, and other health problems on the sulfur-emitting drywall.
When they reported it to Jones in February, the Republican from Treasure Island said tough luck.
Which is essentially what he said to me when I asked him about the Millers.
"If the place is so bad, why don't they just move out?" said Jones, a chiropractor.
I suggested to him that the ethical thing to do is to make sure the place you're renting to somebody is safe, so he said: "It's a brand new home. I'm not fixing anything."
That's when I suggested that he seemed a bit cold about the whole thing. I mentioned that the Millers have three children living at the home. "What I want to know," he said, "is why they want to stay in the house if it's making them sick."
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The answer is that they don't have the money to move. Christine stays home with the kids, one of whom has Tourette's syndrome and another who has been diagnosed with autism. Joe Miller got laid off from his pool construction job and was out of work for about two months. He has a job now working the counter at a pool company, but the family hasn't been able to save up enough money for a downpayment and rent at a new place. They've also made an investment into the home. Jones' lease allows them to apply $250 a month out of their $1,100 rent toward the price of the home, if they decide to purchase it. In a year's time, that's $3,000 -- a big amount for the Millers.
Christine says Jones has been unsympathetic to their problems. When they reported that half the house had lost power, Jones suggested running an extension cord from the other side. She mentioned that the smoke alarms no longer work due to the corrosion. Jones said, "Oh, that house doesn't have Chinese drywall."
It's a claim he repeated to me, saying its builder hasn't reported other problems. But Christine says she's got proof -- toxicology reports from an inspection in February. Jones wouldn't consider that. In response, he said to me: "I didn't do good background checks on them. That's the problem."