Community

Yearslong black slime ‘nightmare’ now in court; Kaua‘i homeowners ‘fatigued’

Play
Listen to this Article
5 minutes
Loading Audio... Article will play after ad...
Playing in :00
A
A
A

Lani Saiki and Matt Woods stand beside their home’s water cooler. Taken April 9, 2024. Photo Credit: Scott Yunker/Kaua‘i Now

Six years have passed since three families purchased their first homes on Kaua‘i – and began an ordeal they claim has yet to end. They and eight other households are now suing their neighborhood’s developer, Fortune 500 company, D.R. Horton, in a bid to resolve their troubles.

“It’s like a nightmare that we haven’t woken up from because it just keeps going,” said Lani Saiki.

Saiki, her husband Matt Woods, and the neighboring Volkmer and Sprengeler-Harris families live in the 151-home Ho‘oluana at Kohea Lea development in Hanamāʻulu, a stone’s throw from the county seat of Līhu‘e on the East Side of the Garden Isle. They are among dozens of nearby households to report the presence of a persistent black slime on their interior plumbing fixtures; the gunk rapidly clots on shower heads, faucets and toilet bowls. Frequent deep cleaning is required to keep the muck at bay.

Many Ho‘oluana (“to live in comfort and ease”) homeowners battling the black slime have listed a litany of similar health complaints, including ear and skin infections, rashes, sores and yeast infections.

Saiki, Woods, Sprengeler, Harris and the Volkmers hold D.R. Horton responsible for their contaminated homes. They and others spent years navigating the dispute resolution process mandated by their home purchase agreements, before filing suit against D.R. Horton in November 2023.

The Ho‘oluana at Kohea Lea development is located in Hanamāʻulu, less than 10 minutes from the Kaua‘i county seat of Līhu‘e. Photo Courtesy: Scott Yunker
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW AD
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW AD

“We’re suing them because of all of the construction defects that have been discovered,” said their attorney Robert G. Klein, a former associate justice of the Hawai‘i Supreme Court, who filed the complaint in the Fifth Circuit on Kaua‘i.

D.R. Horton has a well-documented history of lawsuits filed by property owners alleging shoddy construction. 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.

The company filed a motion to dismiss the Ho‘oluana plaintiffs’ complaint, which was denied by Judge Randal Valenciano, who ordered a consolidated arbitration to occur between the 11 households and the company.

D.R. Horton responded by filing a notice of appeal in the Intermediate Court of Appeals; Klein is now contesting the jurisdiction of that court.

The attorney dismissed the D.R. Horton’s push for separate, rather than consolidated, arbitration as absurd.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW AD

“Can you imagine having, say, 10 different arbitrations for 10 different households, where you have to call the same expert witnesses to explain to an arbitration panel – which can be different for each of the 10 households?” Klein said. “There’s no opportunity to have one answer to the arbitration; you could have 10 different ones.

“The homeowners would be paying expert witnesses to come from the mainland to the beautiful island of Kaua‘i 10 different times,” he continued. “Unless arbitrations are consolidated, it’s a financial disaster for the homeowner.”

“Black slime” has been gunking up showerheads, faucets and toilets in nearly 80 homes on Kaua’i. Photo Courtesy: Linda Sprengeler

Tim Harris and Linda Sprengeler – who made their black slime experience public in late 2021, inciting a flurry of media coverage – noted they and their fellow plaintiffs cannot afford separate arbitration. Even the split costs stemming from a consolidation, which will run into tens of thousands of dollars for each participating household, were deemed feasible by only a fraction of the 78 houses to report black slime contamination.

Harris and Sprengeler, both former information technology professionals, moved from Illinois to Kaua‘i in 2017. They had spent nearly two decades saving to retire on the island.

“We fell in love with the people,” said Sprengeler.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW AD

But in 2021, Sprengeler and Harris claimed they had spent more than $180,000 on efforts to rectify their contaminated water situation and receive reimbursement from D.R. Horton. The married couple’s life savings are now virtually depleted.

“We don’t have much left. We’re older, we’re retired, we really can’t go out and earn more at this stage in our life,” said Sprengeler, who is 72. Harris is 73.

“I’m okay with arbitration because I know it could take six to 10 years to get a case to the public court system,” Sprengeler continued. “Then, after a decision is provided by the judge, the builder could appeal the decision. That could take another several years. Heck, I might not even be alive by then.”

Saiki was born and raised in ʻEleʻele on the West Side of Kaua‘i. She met Woods while working in Portland, Oregon. They returned to Kaua‘i to raise a family and bought their Ho‘oluana home for approximately $657,000 in 2018. It is their first house on the Garden Isle; they previously lived in a Puhi condominium.

“At the time we bought, [our son] was about five or six, and we just wanted a yard,” Saiki said.

Christie Volkmer and her husband, Marc, also moved to Kaua‘i to raise a child. They were elated when their number was drawn in a lottery granting the option to buy a property in the Ho‘oluana development.

Black slime on an otherwise clean toilet in the Volkmer home. Taken April 9, 2024. Photo Credit: Scott Yunker/Kaua‘i Now

“We wanted to buy a home and housing costs were outrageous, so when this development became available, we felt immensely blessed,” said Christie. “It was a lottery system: We made it through, our number was pulled. We felt like we really lucked out.”

However, the Volkmers’ finances have also been consumed by their attempts to free themselves from the black slime. They would even leave to escape the problem but are trapped in their own home.

“We literally cannot move,” said Marc. “We’d have to fix it out-of-pocket before we could sell it and then possibly not be able to recuperate anything.”

Christie chipped in: “Who wants to purchase a home that’s in the middle of arbitration?”

The Volkmers, like their neighbors, described lives locked in limbo. They rely on bottled water, a jerry-rigged camper shower and a water cooler typically found in an office building. Some would-be guests have declined to visit their home, and Christie’s elderly mother returned to Oklahoma due to health concerns.

“She can’t afford to get sick,” said Christie. “That’s a bummer: My daughter doesn’t get her grandma.”

The ongoing court dispute has rendered travel to remote family unaffordable, as well as impossible to plan: The Volkmers don’t know when they will be needed to attend arbitration proceedings. Marc wants to see family in Germany, including his ailing 92-year-old grandmother but is unable to schedule a visit.

“There’s nothing we can plan for the future right now,” said Marc.

Recent buildup of black slime on the Saiki and Woods household’s kitchen faucet. Taken April 9, 2024. Photo Credit: Scott Yunker/Kaua‘i Now

D.R. Horton – the United States’ largest homebuilder, which has closed on more than 1 million homes in its over 45-year history, reporting a net income of $4.7 billion last fiscal year – issued a statement regarding Ho‘oluana residents’ lawsuit:

“D.R. Horton remains committed to the quality of our homes and our homeowners.

“D.R. Horton is aware of certain homeowner concerns at a limited number of homes within the
Ho‘oluana at Kohea Loa Subdivision. D.R. Horton has worked diligently, professionally, and
promptly to address the matter since it was brought to our attention and retained both local
and nationally accredited third-party experts to conduct extensive investigation and testing to
evaluate and address concerns raised by homeowners. These experts have found that there
are no construction or plumbing product related issues that would impair the quality of the
water. Rather, the experts believe the cause of the homeowner complaints is due to low
residual disinfectant levels (i.e., low levels of residual chlorine) in the water and water
distribution system. Unfortunately, D.R. Horton has no control over the source water or water
distribution systems for the Ho‘oluana at Kohea Loa Subdivision.

“D.R. Horton has offered the installation of ultraviolet (UV) systems to disinfect the incoming
water at no cost to homeowners in an effort to address their concerns.”

The Volkmers and others take issue with D.R. Horton’s claims. The Kaua‘i Department of Water, the Hawai‘i Department of Health Safe Drinking Water Branch and the federal Environmental Protection Agency have previously stated the area’s municipal water quality meets or exceeds all state and federal drinking-water standards, in response to the black slime phenomenon.

The company’s offer of free UV systems is also considered an unsuitable solution. The Volkmers claim D.R. Horton’s contractor has already installed at least one UV system on the exterior of a Ho‘oluana home – contrary to instructions and warnings provided in the product’s owner manual.

The UV systems would process municipal water before reaching houses’ interior plumbing, rendering it useless if black slime-causing bacteria is already established within the affected homes.

In addition, the manual states the UV systems “are not intended for the treatment of contaminated water” and “must have a bacteria-free distribution system to work properly.”

Ho‘oluana families are now more exhausted than they have ever been.

“It’s definitely draining. You get fatigued,” said Woods. “You start with so much momentum and then it drags on … You realize how much it affects your everyday life as it continues.”

Scott Yunker
Scott Yunker is a journalist living on Kauaʻi. His work for community newspapers has earned him awards and inclusion in the 2020 anthology "Corona City: Voices from an Epicenter."
Read Full Bio

Sponsored Content

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Stay in-the-know with daily
headlines delivered straight to your inbox.
Cancel
×

Comments

This comments section is a public community forum for the purpose of free expression. Although Kauai Now encourages respectful communication only, some content may be considered offensive. Please view at your own discretion. View Comments