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September 13, 2018Download PDF

NOLA Homeowners Bring Class Action Lawsuit Against Brad Pitt's Make It Right Foundation For Poorly Built Post-Katrina Homes

Coastal communities hasten to gather their belongings and evacuate to shelters as Hurricane Florence closes in on the Carolinas. It is a situation that residents of New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward are all too familiar with. In 2005, their community experienced the gravest effects of Hurricane Katrina, a devastating Category 5 hurricane that resulted in many causalities and left thousands homeless. The disaster inspired actor Brad Pitt to create Make It Right (“MIR”), a non-profit foundation with a mission to build well-designed, energy-efficient, and affordable houses in the area so that residents of the Lower Ninth Ward could return home after Hurricane Katrina.

Since launching in 2007, MIR has built more than 100 homes in the Lower Ninth Ward, each LEED Platinum-certified unit featuring solar panels, non-toxic paint, and energy-saving appliances. The homeowners bought their homes through "soft" second mortgages offered by MIR, sort of like those offered through government housing programs. So, for example, if the home cost $175,000, but the homeowner could only afford $150,000, then MIR covered the difference.

But now, some of the people who bought those homes from MIR say they are dealing with other problems. Within a few years of being built, many of the homes began experiencing serious structural issues as well as gas leaks, mechanical system failures, and roof leaks. In 2015, MIR reportedly was forced to renovate 39 decaying decks due to its use of TimberSIL, a purportedly long-lasting wood product that rotted in New Orleans’ subtropical climate. Earlier this year, one MIR home had to be demolished just seven years after being built, following a prolonged period of vacancy, code violations, and incomplete roof repairs, according to residents and reports.

In response to these problems, a class action lawsuit was filed in New Orleans last week, alleging that Pitt’s MIR foundation built "substandard" homes in the Lower Ninth Ward. The proposed class action lawsuit, which was filed in Orleans Parish Civil District Court on behalf of Lloyd Francis and Jennifer Decuir, accuses MIR of unfair trade practices, breach of contract, and fraud.

The plaintiffs claim that MIR “deficiently constructed and built” their homes with “defective products” that caused damage, including the growth of mold, air quality problems from improper ventilation, structural problems, electrical problems, plumbing problems, and rotten wood. Another key piece of the complaint is that MIR allegedly identified several issues with the building materials and the homes’ designs, which required significant repair, but MIR never alerted homeowners. This “fraudulently deprived homeowners of their right to pursue legal actions under Louisiana's New Home Warranty Act,” the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit goes on to allege that MIR pressured homeowners into signing nondisclosure agreements and documents binding them to arbitration agreements before agreeing to make repairs. According to the complaint, MIR failed to explain these documents to the homeowners, thereby “fraudulently” obtaining signatures “on agreements that would deprive homeowners of important legal rights while the homeowners are under duress.”

These homeowners, who allegedly relied on assurances from MIR that the organization would make repairs, are no longer willing to wait patiently. The homeowners’ counsel stated, “We have filed to make Make It Right make it right.”