Special investigation

After 28 years, Roseville homeowners see legal action against tile manufacturer

Cirby Ranch started the charge, now on the sidelines
By: Scott Thomas Anderson, Editor
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Do words in a business guarantee mean anything?

That is the question some residents of Cirby Ranch have been waiting more than 28 years to get the answer to — battling a multi-million dollar roof tile company over a warranty it allegedly abandoned after its products turned faulty and corrosive.

Now, after nearly three decades of waiting, the tile manufacturer stands to be held accountable in a Placer County civil court, though none of the residents in Cirby Ranch have been assured compensation, even if the class action lawsuit is a success.

Jere Myers purchased a brand new home in the Cirby Ranch development in 1978. One of the visual elements that made his wife like the house was its red slurry-coated roof tiles. In 1981 Jerry Barak also bought a house in Cirby Ranch. However, by 1982 both men had noticed alarming leakage with their roofing tiles. Ed Bettencourt, who had bought a house in Cirby Ranch that same year, was seeing water damage in his tiles as well. Like many homeowners in Cirby Ranch, Barak, Myers and Bettencourt each held a 50-year warranty on the roof tiles from manufacturer Monier Inc. The written guarantee — copies of which were provided to the Press Tribune — states that all “manufacturing defects” with the tiles will be replaced “at no cost” to the homeowner.  

Barak was one of the first residents of Cirby Ranch to contact Monier Inc. about the faulty tiles. Monier is based out of Germany and sells products in more than 40 countries around the world.

“They basically told me that my 50-year warranty was worthless and didn’t mean anything,” Barak recalled. “The Northern California rep. for Monier said to me, if I didn’t like it, I should sue them.”

After Barak and Myers canvassed the entire neighborhood to see the scope of houses affected, they decided a legal action might be in order. Pressure from a group of homeowners they gathered eventually convinced the contractor Monier Inc. worked with, Shappel, to fix the roofs on about 30 of the 130 homes inside Cirby Ranch in 1986. The rest of the houses were left unrepaired. Myers and Bettencourt both got their roofs repaired. Barak was not so lucky. All three men agree that neither Shappel nor Monier executives explained to the residents of Cirby Ranch why they selected the addresses they did for repair, nor how they decided which houses would be left untouched.

“The houses that got re-tiled did stop experiencing water problems,” Bettencourt said. “But some of the houses that weren’t fixed continue to have serious leaking problems to this very day.”

But even the homeowners who did get their roofs re-tiled soon had a new reason to be angry at Monier Inc. By the mid 1990s, the red-colored slurry coating on the tiles on nearly every home in Cirby Ranch was being washed off. The solid crimson look of the neighborhoods’ roofs is now an array of faded, splotchy checkerboard patterns. Rain storms continue to make storm drains and house walls run red with eroding sludge.

Myers, Barak, Bettencourt and others again contacted Monier to see if the faulty tiles could be replaced. They claim they were flat-out refused. An assembly of Cirby Ranch residents contacted the law firm Berding and Weil to see if action could be taken. Myers said its attorneys worked the case for several years in preparation for a civil trial. Berding and Weil eventually withdrew its involvement. After the firm’s departure, residents of Cirby Ranch discovered that San Francisco law firm Ram & Olsen was bringing forth its own class action lawsuit against Monier Inc. for faulty tiles and not honoring warranties. However, while the new law firm is using Myers’documents as part of its case against Monier, the lawsuit only names two plaintiffs, Richard Wallace and Tim McAdams — two Placer County homeowners who live outside Roseville and have each had similar issues with Monier Inc.

The case is now underway in Placer County Civil Court and Myers, Barak, Bettencourt and other residents of Cirby Ranch — due to legal statutes of limitations — feel they are being left completely on the sidelines.

We’re the ones who have kept this going, and we’re being left out now,” Myers said. “These attorneys are using my original pamphlets and documents, but not letting me testify. And no one in Cirby Ranch can get a straight answer from them about whether they’ll get compensation from the suit if they win.”

The lead attorney for Olsen and Ram, Jeff Cereghino, told the Press Tribune his case against Monier is very unique.

“Very few class action lawsuits actually make it to trial in California,” Cereghino said. “Sometimes there’s not even one trial in a year. Our main contention is that these tiles erode before their useful life, and that Monier knew and failed to tell buyers. We’ve been working on this case for 9 years now. It’s been a long journey — a very long road getting to Auburn.”

While Monier’s attorneys also did not return calls, Myers and Barak have attended part of the trial and said Monier’s contention is that the extreme color erosion in the tiles does not matter as long as they maintain structural integrity. Some Cirby Ranch homeowners still have their own questions about what the loss of slurry coating means for the tiles permeability and safety, and most agree on what the erosion means for property value. 

“Monier’s 50-year guarantee promised a long-term aesthetically pleasing look and increasing property value,” Myers observed. “How can they say the color of tiles don’t affect the property value? I’m not happy that I won’t be called as a technical witness in the case, but I do want to see Monier finally be held accountable. We paid good, hard-earned money for our homes and we want to get what we paid for.”