22 property owners sue Lakewood Ranch and SMR

Sarasota, Florida -- Twenty-two property owners are suing Lakewood Ranch and its developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch on allegations including negligence and misleading advertising.

One of LWR approved builders, Paradise Home, filed for bankruptcy leaving homeowners with unfinished homes and, in some cases, the builder never broke ground on the property.

"I felt confident because of the history here at LWR and their future plans," says Dorothy Bodenburg, one of the plaintiffs.

When Dorothy and John Bodenburg visited Lakewood Ranch in 2011 they knew they wanted to retire here from California.

"We saw this beautiful, planned community," says Bodenburg.

They signed a contract and picked a builder after she says a representative reassured her.

"I said, 'are they vetted?' 'Yes, they are vetted SMR stands behind them,'" she recalls.

Dorothy picked Paradise Homes, but says what she didn't know at the time was that this was a start-up company.

"Paradise Homes had never build homes, they were remodelers."

Problems, she says, started immediately with construction delays.

"Every day we came and many times no one was there."

Three-fourths of the way through building stopped.

"It was a nightmare."

When Paradise Homes filed for bankruptcy, Bodenburg became her own contractor, settled liens, negotiated with sub-contractors, and found workers to finish the work Paradise started. It took them a year.

"SMR didn't stand behind its commitment to providing me with a quality builder that is financially sound and had the expertise," says Bodenburg.

The Bodenburgs are among 22 property owners suing LWR and SMR for negligence, an implied partnership with Paradise and misleading advertising.

In a 2009, in a press release provided by the property owners' attorney Alan Tannenbaum, LWR announced Paradise as a new builder and stated its "financial strength."

"That gives folks the assurance they don't have to do own research one of the 5 is a good builder," Tannenbaum said.

Bodenburg says she and her husband spent more on completing their home than they ever planned.

"That was all our travel money, our retirement -- it was a lot of money. Someone has to do what's right."

SMR's legal counsel says Paradise Homes had been financially sound until the owner mismanaged its finances.

SMR's attorney suggests one check the fine print. Attorney Daniel Perka says the contract with Paradise urged homeowners to hire an attorney to check any liens on a builder and help negotiate the contract.

Perka also says the homeowners' contract also urged them to set up an escrow account to keep track of how the builder spends their money on their home. Perka says each property owner waived those rights.

The homeowners' attorney has asked LWR and SMR meet for mediation this fall, but he has not heard back.


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