Dozens of Kaua‘i households have ‘black slime’ for the holidays
December 17, 2022, 6:30 AM HST
* Updated January 17, 4:09 PM
Nearly 80 Kaua‘i homes may share an unwelcome houseguest this holiday season: “Black slime.”
In some cases, the sticky, smelly gunk has clotted their showerheads, faucets and toilets for more than three years.
Island and state news outlets first reported on the slime-filled households, located in the Ho‘oluana at Kohea Lea development in Hanamāʻulu, in November and December of 2021. Now, one year later, the dispute-resolution process between affected residents and the United States’ largest homebuilder D.R. Horton has advanced – incrementally.
“This has been a very long and arduous process,” Ho‘oluana homeowner Christie Volkmer said. “We have now spent approximately two years relying on bottled water for drinking, cooking, brushing our teeth and more. However, we are stuck with showering in our contaminated water, which we must also use for other necessary things like washing dishes and laundry.”
Volkmer’s family moved into their newly constructed house on Amo Street in May 2018, when Ho‘oluana homes ranged from $440,000 to $642,663, according to a local real estate blog. The home prices were nearing the million-dollar mark earlier this year.
The Volkmers discovered black slime dripping from their faucets in late 2020, after a three-month absence from their home. Since then, they have been unable to rid their home of the sludge-like material, which keeps coming back despite regular cleanings.
And, they’re not the only ones: Multiple neighbors reported much of the same to their local newspaper in December 2021. Many also shared similar stories of chronic health conditions – including ear and skin infections, sores and yeast infections – they believed are linked to the black slime.
The Volkmers and others say nationwide developer D.R. Horton has failed to provide a valid solution to their predicament, which they believe stems from contaminated plumbing installed by the Fortune 500 company headquartered in Arlington, Texas.
But D.R. Horton, which began construction of the Ho‘oluana development in 2017, has denied responsibility – prompting homeowners like the Volkmers to enter a lengthy, three-step dispute-resolution process mandated by D.R. Horton’s home-purchase contract.
“It’s definitely a very emotionally-charging situation, as it’s not only an immense daily inconvenience, but also a financial burden with accruing legal fees,” Volkmer said.
The Volkmers and neighboring couples Lani Saiki/Matt Woods and Linda Sprengeler/Tim Harris are among the families who’ve completed the negotiation and mediation phases of the dispute-resolution process. They’re now preparing to enter the final phase, arbitration.
Volkmer could not comment on the specifics of the arbitration process, which will occur before a judge as early as sometime in the first quarter of 2023. Her attorney, former associate justice of the Hawai‘i Supreme Court Robert G. Klein, did not immediately return Kaua‘i Now’s calls.
Saiki, Woods, Sprengeler and Harris declined to speak to Kaua‘i Now for this story, following the advice of their attorneys. However, they have been outspoken in the past. Last year, Sprengeler and Harris launched a GoFundMe campaign on behalf of affected homeowners, which they hoped would help defray legal costs necessary to pursue arbitration. The effort has resulted in nearly $17,000 in donations to date, but that’s far short of the campaign’s $800,000 goal.
The Sprengelers also conducted a door-to-door survey of all 151 homes in the Ho‘oluana development, following the appearance of black slime in their own house. They found a total of 78 households reported black slime contamination.
“I’m particularly distraught over the fact there many more families in our neighborhood with our same awful issue, but they cannot afford the legal battle,” Volkmer said. “I find that very sad and wrong.
“It’s been tough for a lot of people lately, with COVID-19 and its repercussions and this is just almost too much for some. Clean drinking water, especially in a new construction home, shouldn’t be something you have to fight for.”
This isn’t the first time homebuyers have called out D.R. Horton, which also builds under the brands Emerald Homes, Express Homes and Freedom Homes.
The company, which reported $3.348 billion in revenues last fiscal year, is facing a class action lawsuit in first-circuit court on O‘ahu. Plaintiffs in the case claim D.R. Horton installed defective hurricane straps and steel sill tracks in their homes’ wind-resisting systems, and that the hurricane straps and steel sill tracks are corroding.
In 2005, D.R. Horton agreed to pay $39.5 million to the owners of a Colorado condominium complex beset with cracked foundations, cracked walls and poor land drainage. It was the largest settlement of a residential construction-defects lawsuit in Colorado history, The Denver Post reported at the time.
A nationwide ABC News investigation in 2016 revealed D.R. Horton annually set aside $426.4 million, at least two years in a row, to handle hundreds of construction defect claims in its brand-new homes.
Also in 2016, a federal judge in Miami ruled D.R. Horton engaged in deceptive practices that forced the bankruptcy of a Florida homeowners association. D.R. Horton ultimately shelled out an $11 million settlement, according to a local news site.
And just this past week, a Baton Rouge newspaper reported the potential expansion of a class-action lawsuit against D.R. Horton in Louisiana, where a couple claims the developer built homes unable to withstand their state’s extreme heat. Hundreds more plaintiffs may soon be able to join the case.
“We’re confident we will prevail in court,” Volkmer said. “We just want D.R. Horton to do the right thing.”