Mark Teseniar was skeptical when his telephone rang in 2007. On the line were his tenants who had just moved into a Johns Island condominium that he and his wife, Nan, own at Twelve Oaks at Fenwick, off Maybank Highway.
"They complained pretty quickly of mold and air-quality issues," Teseniar said. "I really didn't believe it at first. This was a pretty new unit."
Just in case, he decided to have some experts check it out.
"They discovered issues," he said.
Lawyers were called in. They, in turn, hired local architect Myles Glick, whose forensic analysis uncovered "a tremendous number of defects," Teseniar said Friday.
Those construction flaws mushroomed into a lawsuit that yielded a $7.7 million verdict last week against the company that installed the exterior stucco at Twelve Oaks at Fenwick.
"The jury gave us every nickel we asked for," said Jesse Kirchner, one of the attorneys representing the Teseniars and other property owners.
The award came on top of about $8 million that 16 other businesses previously agreed to pay to settle claims against them, Kirchner said.
The remaining defendant,
Professional Plastering & Stucco Inc. of Sanford, Fla., elected to take its chances in front of a local jury. It lost, and an appeal is likely.
The company's president, Donnie King, and its attorneys did not respond to requests for comment Friday.
The case was not limited to the condo owned by Teseniar, a local teacher who was the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. The defects affected the entire 216-unit development, which was built within the past decade. Kirchner said the property includes a dozen residential buildings and a clubhouse.
"It was in pretty bad shape," he said.
The shoddily installed stucco allowed water to intrude behind walls, deteriorating trusses and other key wooden support structures, according the lawsuit.
Kirchner said residents began to notice water stains and mold building up on the interior walls. The damage was not obvious from the outside.
"If you looked at the buildings from the parking lot they really looked in good shape," he said. "It isn't until you peel back the skin of the buildings do you see the true nature of the problem."
He attributed the bulk of the defects to sloppy workmanship and lax supervision.
"It's really just an ... inattention to detail," Kirchner said
Professional Plastering & Stucco's trial started May 9 and wrapped on Friday the 13th. Mount Pleasant attorney Phillip W. Segui, who also represented the condo owners, said a turning point came when jurors were handed samples of rotted wood taken from the property.
"They were able to hold in Ziploc bags structural framing that looked as if it had turned to chewing tobacco," Segui said. "I think that got their attention."
Teseniar said owners will use the proceeds from the litigation to fix the damage. The repair bill is estimated at about $15 million.
"We've been through the wringer, but we're only halfway there," he said. "We still have to fix things."