Saturday, December 06, 2014

Whidbey Island: Class-action lawsuit taking aim at real estate companies

A class-action suit filed against two Whidbey Island real estate companies claims they did not disclose to buyers the dangers of jet noise.

The lawsuit was filed against Windermere Real Estate and RE/MAX Acorn Properties.

Filed Nov. 18 in Island County Superior Court, the lawsuit alleges that the real estate agents’ “deceptive acts or practices have occurred in their trade or businesses and were and are capable of deceiving a substantial portion of the public.”

Only two plaintiffs are identified by name, but the class action suit asks for injunctive relief for anyone who purchased real estate located in the county’s Airport Environs Mapped Impacted Areas on or after May 11, 1992.

The plaintiffs named in the suit are Jonathan Deegan, who said in court documents he purchased his Coupeville home through RE/MAX in 2006, and Alice O’Grady, who said she purchased her Coupeville home through Windermere in 2011.

Neither could be reached for comment by press time.

“I have not seen the complaint yet, so I cannot comment on the specifics of this case, but I am aware that some off-island and out-of-state attorneys have been urging homeowners to sue Realtors, claiming they were not told about aircraft noise when they bought their homes,” said Eric Mitten, spokesman for Windermere in Oak Harbor and Coupeville, in an emailed statement Friday.

“In our company, we make sure prospective buyers are aware of the airplane noise. We talk about the airplane noise. We also use standard written disclosure forms printed by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service, which provides us with the forms most Realtors use in residential real estate transactions in the state.

“I’m astonished that anyone who has spent any time on Whidbey Island would say they were not aware of the noise,” Mitten said.

Terri Neilon, owner of RE/MAX Acorn Properties, said she is afraid “the litigation could be divisive and help fuel efforts by those who want NAS Whidbey severely cut back or closed.”

“We care about our clients and certainly make sure they are aware of the noise,” Neilon said. “We also tell clients to do their own due diligence — check it out, talk to others and go to the property and listen to the planes flying overhead. Planes from NAS Whidbey are very effective at making people aware of their presence.”

Island County Realtors updated their version of Form 22W in January through the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.

A long-used, one-paragraph noise disclosure was deemed incomplete by Island County Planning Director David Wechner, who issued a memo that spurred the change.

In their lawsuit, both Deegan and Grady said they received only the “inadequate Form 22W” at the time they purchased their homes.

The lawsuit was filed by the Seattle firm of Terrell, Marshall, Daudt & Willie, which sent a letter in May seeking possible plaintiffs.

While only two people are named, the suit states that the class will be “in the hundreds or thousands.”

A contention of the litigation is that, even though the noise disclosure was updated to mirror Island County code, Realtors are allegedly still not providing buyers with the county’s map of the impacted areas.

The county’s Airport and Aircraft Operations Noise Disclosure Ordinance, which contains the required language, also states that the impacted areas are identified on the “attached map.”

In a rough drawing, the county’s map shows all of Whidbey Island north of Lake Hancock as the “impacted areas.” It also includes areas surrounding the Camano and South Whidbey air parks.

Failure to include both the map and the language “about the magnitude and timing of military flight operations as part of pre-sale notices” in real estate transactions is “unfair” and “offends public policy,” the attorneys said in their lawsuit.

The lawyers are asking a judge to approve their class action status, damages, a modification of the disclosure forms, attorneys fees and any other relief deemed proper.

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