When Enrique Del Rivero turns on the tap, he worries that water could also be flowing elsewhere.
“It is stressful. It’s always on the back of your mind,” said the husband and father of two.
The Del Rivero’s moved to Ladera Ranch in South Orange County in 2006. The home with the view just two years old. He said the stress began several years later in 2012, when they returned from a week-long vacation.
“You could touch the ceiling and your fingers could go through the ceiling,” he said about the water damage.
“Everything was wet”, recalled Del Rivero. “It was on the second floor…everything trickled down to the first floor.”
Crews helped with the cleanup and repairs, but it didn’t end there. Del Rivero said he chalked up the first two leaks to bad luck.
“Then the third (water leak), the fourth one and the fifth…there has to be something wrong,” he said.
“I think the blame squarely rests with the developers,” said Richard Bridgford, whose law firm is representing Del Rivero and potentially hundreds of others in a proposed class action lawsuit. “They (the developers) were aware of the type of pipe they were using and the type of water they were importing into the home.”
The lawsuit alleges the builders Centex Homes by Pulte knew copper piping used in its Ladera Ranch homes in the 92694 area code was “defective for the water conditions.” Most South County water districts import their drinking water.
“The chloramine and the sulfites in the water interact with the pipe, and they cause pitting,” said Bridgford.
“They literally build up a pit. It takes some time to eat away. Ultimately, it springs a leak, a pinhole leak,” said attorney Michael Artinian, who works with Bridgford, as he held up a piece of copper pipe with a leak the size of a pinhole.
Pulte said its investigation of homes “show no indication of a defect in the copper pipe itself nor the manner in which the pipes are installed. Some believe the issue a few homes have experienced are due to chemicals added to the water by the water districts”, said PulteGroup spokesperson Jacque Petroulakis in a statement.
PulteGroup is the parent company of Pulte Homes and Centex.
Last year, an Orange County judge tossed out a class-action lawsuit against local water districts over chemicals that allegedly corrode copper pipes. The judge ruled water companies can’t be sued because they’re following state and federal standards for safe drinking water.
Last year, on behalf of hundreds in Ladera Ranch whose homes were built between May 9, 2003, and May 9, 2013, Bridgford’s law firm, Bridgford, Gleason & Artinian reached a nearly $10 million settlement with other homebuilders, including MBK and William Lyon Homes, which did not admit any wrongdoing.
The settlement provided up to nearly $15,000 per home to get re-piping with a PEX plumbing system or to treat existing pipes.
Pulte said it inspected Del Rivero’s home last year and “it offered to replace all pipes or reimburse the family for repair costs. Our offers were rejected”.
Del Rivero said his repairs – including a pipe coating to prevent his insurance from being cancelled – adds up to more than $40,000. Insurance covered $25,000.
Pulte said it offered to pay the remainder, but Del Rivero’s attorneys said he’s entitled to full damages and potentially hundreds of others.
There are also pending cases in Yorba Linda and San Clemente.
Pulte said it is “fully committed to customer satisfaction and quality” and it has “offered to investigate and/or repair every home that has actually been identified in the complaint.”
“I just want to be able to go out of my house, not worrying about ‘Today, you’re going to have a leak,'” said Del Rivero.
Advice to potential homebuyers? Talk to an inspector about pinhole leaks, especially if you live in an affected area.
Check water pressure and do regular physical inspections to try to catch any problems early on.
Experts also say to take a close look at all homeowners’ insurance policies to make sure pinhole leaks are covered.