Contractor admits building untold number of code-violating carports

Building official says there could be 'hundreds' in west Broward


DAVIE, Fla. – To the untrained eye, there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with the mobile homes in west Davie's Rexmere Village. But to structural engineer Gus Tarnowski, the place is a shocking display of shoddy and illegal construction.

"I was like shocked," said Tarnowski. "These shouldn't have been built. How are these things being approved?"

Tarnowski is talking about the carports at Rexmere and at mobile homes in other South Florida parks. The park off Hiatus Drive south I-595 is loaded with carports with weak aluminum columns that he said clearly don't meet Florida Building Code.

"These things just rip apart like aluminum foil in a hurricane," said Tarnowski.
"So they're cutting corners at the expense of people's safety?" asked Local 10 investigative reporter Bob Norman.
"Yes, these things are going to fly apart and they're probably going to blow and hit the next guy's unit," answered Tarnowski. "These things are going to be like missiles when a hurricane comes."

Tarnowski said state code calls for sturdy aluminum columns to be used, but the material being used is much thinner and flimsier. A drive through Rexmere reveals dozens of the deficient carports. A look at plans submitted to the town by the contractor, Modern Aluminum, indicates that the sturdy and code-compliant columns were listed, in compliance with the code, but then the illegal stuff was actually installed.

"It's all about the money," said Tarnowski. "More money in the guy's pocket."

Norman paid a visit to the owner of Modern Aluminum, Charles Klement, who readily admitted cutting corners on the carports and building them out of code, saying that his workers "were pulling the wrong columns off the shelf."

"Your own company was cutting corners," Norman said.
"Apparently so," said Klement.
"You were sacrificing safety for the dollar?" asked Norman.
"That's an opinion," he said. "I missed it, I absolutely missed it."
"You missed it?" asked Norman.
"Listen Bob, people make mistakes," Klement said.

Klement said there was a complaint made about a year ago to the town of Davie and he is no longer building the out-of-code carports. He said the town had him retrofit six carports when it was discovered, but the public was never notified of the problem and an untold -- and very large -- number of the illegal carports remain standing in Rexmere.

"So how many are out there that need to be fixed?" asked Norman. "Fifty, 100, 200?"
"I do not know, I haven't inventoried it," answered Klement.
"Isn't that something you should have done immediately?" Norman asked.
"Maybe I should," Klement said. "I don't know. I didn't think about it."
"You didn't think about the people's safety for the work you do? asked Norman.
"I don't think they're unsafe," said Klement.
"Isn't that why they don't meet code is because they're not safe?" asked Norman.
"Safe is an opinion," said Klement.
"They don't meet wind-resistant standards," said Norman.
"Yeah, they are not quite up to standard," said Klement. "You are right."

Rexmere president James Dale, who lives in San Diego, didn't return calls. The town of Davie's top building official, Brian Dillon, said inspectors failed to catch the code-violating columns because there was no way for them to gauge their thickness.

"You can't look at them and tell that there's a difference in thickness; all you see is it's a 3-inch column as it says on the plans," said Dillon.

He said the reason the town didn't demand that all the deficient carports -- and he said there were likely hundreds of them in his town done by multiple contractors in several mobile home parks -- was that the building department didn't have the "manpower" to do it, though spotting them is simple even for the layman.

"It looks like you glossed over it and didn't fix the problem," Norman said.
"I don't know that there is a problem," said Dillon.
"You know there is a problem," said Norman. "You've been told there is a problem. You had six corrected."
"I knew there was a problem with the six," said Dillon.
"Isn't it the city's job to go back and look at these when a problem arises?" asked Norman.
"I don't know, do you think it's the city's job to go back and look at these?" asked Dillon. "We do the best job we can with the time that we have ... When you're an inspector some of your assumption has to be that the contractor is doing their work correctly. We don't get to see everything."
"That's not giving a lot of confidence to the public," said Norman.
"I hope the public understands that," said Dillon.

The building official said he felt that many of the strengthened building codes brought on byHurricane Andrew's destruction were "knee-jerk" and unnecessary.

"Do you think it's important to enforce them?" asked Norman.
"I do enforce them," said Dillon.
"Even though you don't agree with them?" Norman asked.
"There's a lot of things I don't agree with," said Dillon. "That doesn't mean it's not the law and you have to abide by it."

Resident David Danforth, who has one of the deficient carports in his driveway, said he felt that his carport -- and everyone else who has one in Rexmere -- should get what they paid for: Sturdy, code-compliant carports.

"You would want somebody to come out and do the right thing," said Danforth. "They should still do the right thing."