Florida lawmakers call for action against defective Chinese drywall

Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.), Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) and attorney Patrick Montoya at a press conference calling for help for homeowners affected by defective Chinese drywall. Photo: Ymaris Tejada

In a show of bipartisan force, U.S. Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Miami-Dade) and U.S.
Rep. Federica Wilson (D-Miami Gardens) joined several South Florida families at a
press conference at Florida International University’s Law Center in Miami recently to
discuss how defective and toxic drywall imported from China continues to affect
homeowners nationwide, including in Florida.

The Sunshine State leads the nation in complaints about toxic drywall, with 60% of all
cases nationwide, some still in litigation years after it was first reported.

Chinese drywall began arriving in the United States in 2001 and was imported in large
quantities particularly after the 2004-2005 hurricane season and during a housing boom
that caused shortages of drywall made in the United States. As far back as 10 years
ago, residents in Florida and other parts of the country complained that the Chinese
drywall in their homes was causing health problems, damaging appliances and
corroding pipes and wiring. Drywall made in China continued to be imported and used in
home construction through 2009, and its effects remain.

“Since 2006, thousands of American citizens have been seeking relief from defective
Chinese drywall, which has not only affected their homes and personal property, but it
has also impacted their day to day lives,’ said Díaz-Balart. “It’s time to put an end to this
inexcusable injustice. These Chinese manufacturers, agents of the regime, have
circumvented our justice system for far too long, and they must be brought to justice.”

“The Chinese drywall has ruined homes all across the nation, but most prevalently in
Florida,” added Wilson. “I urge everyone whose home has been affected to let the
authorities know as soon as possible and also to beware of scammers falsely claiming
an ability to help the problem. Please also know that your Florida congressional
delegation is on your side and fighting to make sure that the Chinese companies
responsible for this fiasco resolve this injustice.

“For most families,” she continued, “their home is not only their biggest investment and
most valuable asset but also where their dearest memories are made. To watch it
corrode because of defective drywall is heartbreaking. Adding insult to injury is the fact
that the drywall also has adversely affected the health of otherwise healthy people.”

U.S. courts have already ruled that Chinese companies are negligent and have to pay
thousands of victims. The Chinese companies involved have been held in contempt of
court and have refused to appear in court. They were also sanctioned for concealing the
whereabouts of a key witness and delaying time in providing documents.

“(Chinese companies) have benefitted off the backs of our consumers for many years,” said Patrick Montoya, a Coral Gables attorney representing several affected families. “And when they make a mistake or [make and sell] something bad, pay for it, just like any U.S. company would. They shouldn’t be treated any differently and we don’t want to treat them any differently, but they should respect our courts.”

“They’ve lost every single legal battle. And yet they continue to
ignore every court order, every settlement,” said David González, an affected homeowner.

He and his wife were forced to move out of their South Florida home when defective drywall was discovered in it. Most was found in their young son’s room. Parents and doctors believed he was only suffering from allergies, but the boy’s health rebounded
within a few weeks of moving from the home.

The González family is not alone in being forced to move, file for bankruptcy or endure
foreclosure in efforts to rid themselves of the defective drywall. Some families are
currently living in toxicity because of the financial burden of resolving the problem, say
advocates for remedies. Financial compensation is among the remedies being sought.

Legislators and affected families pressed for action on the same day that Díaz-Balart, Wilson and several other Florida legislators, including Republican Senator Marco Rubio, sent a letter to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, urging the Trump administration to help resolve the claims against Chinese companies.

“After more than a decade, thousands of Floridians are still seeking justice and battling
with the harmful effects of toxic Chinese drywall,” said Rubio. “We must hold Chinese
drywall companies responsible for the damages caused to the health and homes of
impacted American families, and make it clear they can no longer avoid accountability.”

“Their willingness to not only send defective products to the United States, but also
when something bad happens, they refuse to to pay up,” Díaz-Balart added. “They
refuse to adhere to the rules that the United States again welcomes. We welcome
imports [but] they have to adhere to the rules. And China has a pattern of not wanting to
do that.”

A German company that manufactured defective drywall at a factory in China faced
similar claims, but has compensated 4,000 families with more than $1 billion. The
legislators who signed the letter to Secretary Ross are requesting a resolution for claims
still pending in court and want to prevent the Chinese companies involved from
conducting business in the United States until all matters are resolved.

There are nearly 200 defective Chinese drywall cases pending in the Southern District of Florida, with 20 of them set for trial this summer.

Ymaris Tejeda is a reporter in the South Florida Media Network’s Washington, D.C.,
Bureau.