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Clearing the air. (And Finally ...).

Realtor[R] Tommy Lovett suggested that Mercedes Homes, Inc., a nonspecialty builder that constructs single-family residential homes in several states--including Florida--has discriminated against Kenneth LaCruz, a disabled veteran. Although the article failed to set forth the manner of alleged discrimination, its general tone placed Mercedes Homes, Inc., in a false light by saying the company discriminates against people because of their race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or handicap.

In order to clear the air, it is necessary to set forth the facts concerning Mercedes Homes' relationship with Mr. LaCruz. On June 27, 2001, he entered into a contract whereby Mercedes agreed to build a standard model home in a subdivision in Brandon, Fla. Even though this model was not then available in that subdivision, Mercedes agreed to build one as an accommodation to Mr. LaCruz.

The original contract price for the lot and home was $202,000. Mr. LaCruz, however, requested his contract provide for certain available options. These included a ten-foot garage plate, an intercom system, seven 36-inch doorways, Jacuzzi[R] jets for the master-suite bathtub, grab bars for each commode and shower, two wheelchair ramps, a pool bath, and a swimming pool. The additional amount for these options was $41,085, increasing the total contract price to $253,085. The contract was contingent upon Mr. LaCruz's being approved for financing in the amount of $199,085.

Mr. LaCruz informed Mercedes Homes that as a disabled veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces he was eligible for a $43,000 specially adapted housing (SAH) grant from the U.S. government. Accordingly, his contract with Mercedes Homes was made conditional upon his receiving this grant. (Without it, he could not afford the house.)

Some of the options he selected were related to his disability; others were not. Mr. LaCruz, however, represented to Mercedes Homes that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) was indifferent as to the options the grant money would pay for. According to him, the only issue would be whether or not he was eligible for the grant.

Relying upon this information, Mercedes Homes provided VA copies of the home's drawings. However, a fundamental disagreement existed between Mr. LaCruz and VA as to what types of features/options the grant monies would pay for.

Mr. LaCruz became a difficult customer. He demanded changes to the contract's specifications and threatened to sue Mercedes Homes unless it acceded to his demands.

On July 4, 2001, Mercedes Homes received a letter from Mr. Lovett concerning its contract with Mr. LaCruz. Mr. Lovett, on behalf of Mr. LaCruz, requested numerous additional modifications to the contract specifications so his client could qualify for SAH approval. The letter insisted Mr. LaCruz would receive the $43,000 grant but did not provide that Mercedes Homes, Inc., would have additional compensation for making the changes over and above the contract's original specifications, even though complying with Mr. LaCruz's requests would make it much more difficult and expensive for Mercedes to build the house.

Eventually it was evident Mr. LaCruz would not be able to use the VA SAH grant to pay for the options he had included in his contract with Mercedes Homes. Nor did he offer to renegotiate the contract price to adequately compensate Mercedes for the far more expensive house requiring a custom design for the standard home it had originally contracted to build. Further, because Mercedes Homes' builders were unfamiliar with the special type of modifications VA requested, it would have required the constant presence of onsite construction supervisors.

It became apparent nothing would make Mr. LaCruz happy. Mercedes Homes had no alternative but to inform him it was not willing to modify the original contract to include the specifications/modifications requested by VA so he could qualify for the $43,000 grant. Mercedes Homes never agreed to the modifications of its original contractual obligations requested in Mr. Lovett's letter. Since Mr. LaCruz was obviously not willing to go forward with his contract without the modifications he demanded, Mercedes Homes had no alternative but to treat the contract as null and void. In no way did Mercedes Homes, Inc., discriminate against Mr. LaCruz with respect to his status as a disabled veteran.

Mr. Lovett's article, wherein he accused Mercedes Homes of discriminatory conduct without stating any facts to back up his accusation, was extremely unfair to Mercedes Homes, which has not--and will not--discriminate against any person because of race, color, national origin, religion, disability, sex, or familial status. Nor does it discriminate against veterans.

This letter was submitted by Patrick F. Roche, an attorney at Frese, Nash & Hansen, P.A., in Melbourne, Fla.
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Author:Roche, Patrick F.
Publication:PN - Paraplegia News
Date:Sep 1, 2002
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