EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. (KRDO) -- From the outside, homes in Lorson Ranch look like your average suburban neighborhood, but for some, the homes are anything but normal. Several homeowners have told 13 Investigates once they stepped inside their brand new builds by Tralon Homes, a host of problems became apparent.
To avoid a bidding war, Jade Rhodes closed on her $450,000 Tralon home in a rush in August 2021. Within four months of moving in, she started finding problems. The tile in her bathroom began to crack and soon her kitchen flooring started bowing and splintering.
“We bought this out of desperation,” Rhodes explained. “It was going to be one of those where we're going to be here for a bit, sell it, go to the next. Well, now we have these issues where we have to fix before we can sell it.”
Right around the corner from Rhodes lives Bryan Stafford. He also closed on his Tralon home in the summer of 2021 for about $420,000 and quickly found issues with his new home.
Stafford told 13 Investigates the backyard wasn’t level so whenever it rained the water would pool up. Doors throughout his house also wouldn’t close properly because the frames had shifted.
Both Rhodes and Stafford filed warranty requests and said the issues were resolved quickly — Rhodes’ bathroom tile was replaced and Tralon re-leveled Stafford’s entire backyard.
However, those problems weren’t the end of their woes. As new issues popped up, Tralon’s warranty responses and inspections became “nonexistent.”
Tralon Homes, which builds houses in Lorson Ranch in Colorado Springs, Meridian Ranch in Peyton, Pueblo West, and Eagle Brook in Loveland, was formerly known as St. Aubyn Homes before changing its name in 2021. It is owned by the Landhuis Company, whose president, Jeff Mark, declined an interview with 13 Investigates.
Tralon Homes’ warranty has three different coverage plans:
- A one-year workmanship warranty that covers standard materials, like roofs, floors, countertops, siding, and drywall.
- A two-year warranty for distribution systems, like piping, electrical, and ductwork.
- A ten-year structural warranty for load-bearing walls, beams, columns, and foundations.
When a homeowner finds a problem, they must file a claim within the specified time frame. Tralon’s warranty department will then inspect the claim to determine if it falls under the company’s warranty. If it does, Tralon or one of its subcontractors is supposed to fix the problem.
Stafford told 13 Investigates he’s filed more warranty claims for his garage slabs shifting and cracking apart and a major leak in his sprinkler system that’s turned his once-fixed backyard into nothing but dirt.
Stafford said he’s been waiting for the warranty department to inspect the problems. For the last year, no one has shown up.
“Nobody's actually come out to look at it — the garage floor, the sprinkler system,” Stafford said. “You submit claims and no one comes out to look at those.”
Meanwhile, Rhodes’ splintered kitchen floor has only worsened, cutting her son’s foot. That warranty claim has been sitting in Tralon’s system for more than a year, she said. One of Tralon’s warranty inspectors looked at the issue and sent over its flooring subcontractor. But now Tralon said it wants to inspect the floor again.
“They will say, ‘We'll get in touch with you.’ Then you never hear anything because they won't come,” Rhodes said.
Since filing her claim, Rhodes said she received scattered communication from at least five different warranty employees about her floor. With no fixes in sight, Rhodes worries if she’ll even be able to sell her home.
“What issues are going to come up after the next two years? Three years? We were here a couple of months and issues were popping up,” Rhodes said. “There are structural issues coming from neighbors. Mine's insignificant compared to others.”
Stafford has the same concerns.
“If we need to sell this house, we need to have these problems fixed or else we're going to end up having to pay for them just to sell the house,” Stafford said.
Rhodes believes Tralon Homes bit off more than it can chew, building houses faster than it can keep up with. She told 13 Investigates that’s why she doesn’t recommend buying from Tralon Homes.
“Unless they get their stuff together, run for the hills,” she said. “It's not worth it. It's horrible. There's no communication. There is no warranty.”
“Putting them together too fast”
13 Investigates learned few contractors in El Paso County have pulled more building permits year over year than Tralon Homes.
According to the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department, building permits for single-family homes pulled by contractors in El Paso County have steadily increased in the last 15 years, reaching a peak in 2021 with a total of 1,870.
Of those, Tralon Homes pulled 552, almost a third of the total.
Tralon Homes’ busiest year was 2020, when it pulled 738 single-family home permits — about 42% of the total permits by all contractors in El Paso County.
Kevin Baker, an inspector with AmPro Inspections in Colorado Springs, saw firsthand the effects of the building explosion in the early 2020s.
“When they put them up that fast, there's so many things that are going to go wrong,” Baker explained.
The market has significantly slowed since 2021. Only 1,412 single-family building permits were pulled by contractors from El Paso County in 2022 — 356 of those were from Tralon Homes.
So far this year, permits have nosedived. Only 219 have been pulled, with none by Tralon Homes. Ryan Klein, the legal advisor for the Colorado Springs Housing and Building Association, said the dramatic decrease in building permits is largely due to the rise in interest rates cooling the housing market.
Now, the record number of permits pulled and houses built by Tralon in previous years seems to be catching up to them.
“They're just putting them together too fast, so there's no quality assurance happening at every stage,” Baker said. “There's so much going on so fast that there is no way that they can keep track of everything.”
Lawyers bring resolution
13 Investigates found the quickest solution for homeowners is hiring an attorney.
Jocelyn Conrad is one of the few homeowners who had her warranty claims fixed, but not until after she hired a lawyer.
Conrad built her St. Aubyn home in Lorson Ranch when the neighborhood was first developed in 2015. She closed on the house at a little over $300,000. For years, the home was exactly what she dreamed it would be. However, in 2019 is when her situation quickly turned into a living nightmare.
Around March 2019, drywall cracks appeared throughout the house.
“They kept getting bigger and bigger,” Conrad explained. “They're really just focused around this area of my house [her dining room.] We had one, two, three, four, up here and they just kept growing.”
Conrad filed a warranty claim in April 2019 and an inspector with St. Aubyn came to look at the problem the next day. A couple of weeks later a structural engineer assessed the damage.
The engineer from the Rocky Mountain Group said the “foundation is structurally stable and adequately supporting the structure.” He recommended downspout outlet extensions be provided to keep water away from the foundation of the house. He also said St. Aubyn needs to make sure the sump pump installed in Conrad’s basement works.
St. Aubyn followed the recommendations in the report but the cracks only got worse, with some extending dozens of inches.
Conrad said she continually reached out to the warranty department with her concerns, but all communication went unanswered. That’s when she hired a lawyer.
“Nothing was getting done,” she said. “It's my house and I needed some answers and they were not giving them to me. We just knew, ‘You're brushing us off and we're serious and you need to work with us.’”
Conrad had to pull about $3,200 from her savings to afford the lawyer. She told 13 Investigates it was worth it, saying the threat of a lawsuit brought resolution.
St. Aubyn Homes brought back Rocky Mountain Group for another inspection. This time they determined the steel beam and frame system directly below the dining room, where the more significant cracks were located, rested on the basement slab rather than the foundation pad. So as the house settled and the basement slab moved, as it was intended to, the steel beam, supporting the dining room above, moved with it.
St. Aubyn had to break the concrete basement slab and extend the steel beam to rest on the foundational slab below. Since the fix, the cracks in Conrad’s house have closed, but are still visible.
“This was going to be our forever home,” Conrad said. “We were super excited about it. We were invested. Now it's just like a veil has come off.”
Lawsuits show a problematic pattern
13 Investigates discovered 4 lawsuits filed against St. Aubyn Homes and Tralon Homes since 2020 in El Paso County, showing a pattern of warranty claims going unanswered.
Jerry Richbow bought a St. Aubyn Home in Lorson Ranch in 2018 and, like Conrad, drywall cracks began to form throughout his house. In court documents, Richbow claims the house was not built in accordance with building codes.
According to state law, if a site is recognized to have “significant potential expansive soil,” developers are required to give “each buyer a copy of a publication detailing the problems associated with such soil, the building methods to address these problems during construction, and suggestions for care and maintenance to address such problems.”
Richbow claims he was never given the report prior to closing on the house.
Richbow told 13 Investigates he spent about $30,000 in lawyer fees before settling out of court. He said St. Aubyn painted over the cracks and defects and he later sold the house in 2021.
John Betancourt bought a St. Aubyn Home in Peyton in 2019. In his court-filed complaint, he alleged the company improperly graded the exterior of his house, causing “standing water to pool on the home’s lawn and subsurface runoff water to penetrate and damage the home’s building components.”
In the complaint, he claimed St. Aubyn Homes “failed to construct the home’s exterior grading and drainage in compliance with the Pikes Peak Regional Building Code, breached the fixed duty of care imposed by the same, and is therefore negligent.”
Betancourt’s wife, Rocio, told 13 Investigates they settled out of court and signed a non-disclosure agreement. The couple declined an interview.
What protections do homeowners have?
For some still experiencing issues with Tralon Homes, the financial burden of legal action isn’t an option for them. They’re now unsure of where to turn.
Baker, the inspector with AmPro Inspections, said one-way homeowners can protect themselves is by having their home inspected at three different times — before drywall is put up, before closing, and a month before the homeowner’s one-year warranty ends.
He said homeowners can miss a lot of small problems when they walk through a house themselves, especially when multiple subcontractors were hired to build it.
“If one of them is like, ‘Oh, I'm just going to do this and no one's going to see it,’ then the next person tries to cover that and the next one and the next. It's just a massive snowball,” Baker said, speaking to shoddy subcontractor work.
He explained that just because contractors abide by the county’s building code doesn’t mean a high-quality house was built.
“(Home inspectors) are looking for physical defects that are going to affect something down the line. Building (inspector) is actually looking at something that is going to affect the house right now,” Baker explained.
Klein, the legal advisor for the Colorado Springs Housing and Building Association, said contractors are already protected by the Construction Defect Action Reform Act (CDARA) — a law passed in 2001 that regulates all claims and litigation in which a party claims construction defects. The law was then amended in 2003 to curb frivolous lawsuits involving the construction industry and limit the liability of all construction professionals.
According to CDARA, someone claiming construction or design defects must file a pre-litigation notice of claim process at least 75 days before filing a lawsuit. The construction professional is then allowed to inspect the defect within 30 days and another 30 days to make an offer or settlement. The person claiming the defect can then accept or decline the offer within 15 days. If the offer is declined, a lawsuit can be filed. The purpose of the law is to avoid litigation.
Because CDARA protects building contractors, homeowners have few options when building contractors ignore their warranty requests. Most protections for homeowners come before signing any agreements, which is why Klein recommends homeowners read through their contracts and negotiate any sections they are wary about.
“When you're signing mortgage documents, it can be hard when they're 500 pages and you're there for 15 minutes,” he said. “But I'd say with those, it's extremely important to read through those and ask questions to the homebuilders.”
Klein said buyers can negotiate anything in a contract, from extending warranties to what’s covered under the warranty.
The Colorado Attorney General’s Office said it received more than 950 complaints about home service and repair companies in 2022 — the second most complaints of any category.
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser recommends homeowners do their research about builders before entering into a contract, including talking to people who already live in the neighborhood and checking online reviews.
“Do your homework before you enter into a contract with the contractor,” Weiser told 13 Investigates. “Make sure to get references, ideally from people you trust, and make sure that it's not a fly-by-night company.”
“We thought this was going to be it”
Katherine Magana and her husband Giovanni told our team they regret buying their Tralon home. They admitted to closing on their house in 2021 for $504,000 without doing any research.
“We didn't know any better because we were brand new, first-time homeowners,” Katherine said.
Less than a year after moving in, cracks started to form in their drywall and foundation.
Before their one-year warranty expired, they hired a home inspector to sniff out any unseen problem, and they are glad they did. The inspector noticed a crack outside in the house's foundation that snaked underground.
The Maganas filed a claim, and like others, they didn’t hear back. They called incessantly for days and eventually an inspector showed up a month later and agreed the foundational crack fell under Tralon’s warranty.
Tralon Homes brought in a structural engineer from the Rocky Mountain Group — the same company that inspected Conrad’s house in 2019 and 2020. According to the report, the engineer determined the “foundation is adequately supporting the structure.” However, the east foundational wall was laterally rotating due to soil pressure.
“If the backfill soils are not compacted properly they can consolidate and settle, increasing the lateral pressure on the foundation wall. This increased pressure can easily exceed the structural capacity of the wall if not designed for this condition. The inward rotation of the east foundation wall appears to have pushed in on the interior wall,” the report stated.
This is what led to the multiple foot-long drywall cracks in the Magana’s house.
The report recommended Tralon Homes pressure inject the foundational crack with epoxy to fill the gap and keep out moisture, which the building contractor completed.
However, to keep the foundational wall from rotating and creating further problems, the structural engineer’s report recommended Tralon Homes “regrade the backfill zone around the entire structure to ensure a minimum positive slope of 10% for the first ten feet from the foundational wall.”
This has yet to be completed.
“That's the worst part about this,” Katherine said. “It’s such a beautiful house. I love this house.”
“We thought this was going to be it. The house. But now it's this,” Giovanni said, referencing the drywall cracks and broken cabinets.
13 Investigates pushes for answers
Jeff Mark, the Landhuis Company president, declined an interview with 13 Investigates, but he said he would personally inspect any complaints from the homeowners we spoke to for this story. With the homeowners’ permission, we shared their information with Mark.
“Tralon Homes recently became aware of some warranty claims from homeowners in Colorado Springs through contact from KRDO,” Tralon Homes said in a statement. “We have always tried to answer and resolve claims as fast as possible. Upon KRDO providing names and contact information for those certain homeowners willing to be contacted, on March 22nd, Tralon Homes is committed to expeditiously contacting these homeowners to further evaluate such warranty claims. We will be working toward a resolution in each case. We are also reviewing procedures in our claims department, so our customers get the prompt response they deserve.”
However, five days after sharing their information, the homeowners told 13 Investigates no one with Tralon Homes reached out about their warranty claims, so they contacted Mark themselves. Now they may soon see some resolution.
Rhodes has a meeting scheduled later this month with Tralon Homes to fix her broken kitchen floor. This will be the sixth meeting since she filed the claim.
Tralon also agreed to fix Stafford's broken sprinkler line, but Mark claims the backyard is “dead because of (their) dogs and a lack of homeowner maintenance.” He also said the garage slabs don’t fall under the company’s warranty.
As for the Maganas, Tralon will install new drainage to improve foundational concerns, but it won’t regrade the property as the structural engineer recommended.
“It's just frustrating,” Katherine said. “It's tiring. It's scary not knowing what the hell is going to happen.”
Like other homeowners, the Maganas can’t afford a lawyer and don’t know what other options they have.
Despite the consistent controversy and complaints, the Landhuis Company is busy with 38 more builds just around the corner from the Maganas.
“If they can't even keep up with the amount of warranty for the homes that they have right now,” Katherine said, “why are you building more homes?”