Lennar Homes learned a hard lesson in Florida, when its choice of a pest control contractor came back to bite it. By Matthew Power

A class action termite case filed back in 1998 and long since settled still haunts Lennar Homes. As recently as November 2001, documents were filed asking for enforcement of the court-sanctioned settlement. "There's just no way to satisfy every single complaint," notes Lennar's general counsel and vice president, David McCain. "There were about 1,800 homes involved in the suit, and we voluntarily stood behind our product. Our view was that we were just as much victims as the homeowners."

The trouble began in 1996, when homeowners in Hillsborough County, Fla., discovered that subterranean termites had effectively gutted the wooden frames of their Lennar-built homes. The class action lawsuit held Lennar and the pre-treating company responsible. What went wrong? According McCain, the pest control sub, Ace Professional Pest Control, "didn't perform its service." Ace quickly went insolvent and no longer exists. Which left Lennar as the only financial target for homeowners and their attorneys.

Chris Fields, an independent termite fumigator for Florida Exterminating Co. in Tampa, Fla., says that the effectiveness of termite control varies wildly, depending largely on the chemicals used.

"What often happens is that cost-cutting fumigation companies will use the wrong chemicals or water down the mix," Fields says. "If the pre-treatment is done right, with the builder covering the area as soon as possible, it should remain effective for seven to 10 years."

But Fields shares a common criticism the pest industry has of most home builders. "Nine of 10 builders will go for the lowest price," he laments. "They just want a sticker that says the soil has been treated."

Killer App

Termite pre-treating chemicals vary by cost, environmental impact, and effectiveness.

Common brands
Demon Harsh, strong smelling, lower cost, not allowed in some states
Premise Cleaner, less harsh chemical, smell repels insects
Termidor The latest favorite, does not repel, but kills on contact