Brad Pitt’s legal woes go beyond just his poisonous divorce from Angelina Jolie: His New Orleans charitable foundation has been sued for allegedly building shoddy homes post-Hurricane Katrina and failing to fix multiple problems for nearly a decade.
A group of more than 100 homeowners in the low-lying Lower Ninth Ward, one of the city’s neighborhoods most damaged by the 2005 hurricane, filed a proposed class-action lawsuit last week accusing Pitt and his Make It Right foundation of unfair trade practices, breach of contract and fraud.
According to the lawsuit, the mortgage-paying owners of 109 homes built by Make It Right say their dwellings are beset by multiple problems, including mold, poor design, substandard construction and materials, electrical and HVAC failures, and siding issues.
Ron Austin, the New Orleans lawyer who represents the homeowners, says Pitt and the board of the foundation, which Pitt formed in 2007 after raising $42 million, have known about the problems since at least 2009 but have failed to fix them despite mounting complaints.
“We want to make Brad Pitt make it right,” Austin told USA TODAY. “He can’t leave these people helpless.”
Pitt responded to the lawsuit in a statement to USA TODAY emailed by his spokesman:
“An extensive review of the homes began just after the tenth anniversary of Katrina (in 2015). Thanks to the dedication of the MIR team, we have been coordinating repairs of homes experiencing problems since early 2018 and have total faith in the team on the ground to see this through.
“I made a promise to the folks of the Lower Ninth to help them rebuild – it is a promise I intend to keep.”
Austin said 2018 is too late to respond to problems cited by homeowners as early as 2009. Also, engineering reports on inspections conducted in 2016, 2017 and 2018 have not been turned over to homeowners so it’s difficult to assess whether adequate repairs have been made.
“The problems our inspectors are noting in the early stages of our investigation reveal rotting support beams, homes that are retaining significant moisture, which has resulted or will result in mold growth, which is dangerous to health,” Austin said. “Until (the foundation) provides detailed renovation plans on each home, MIR is not adequately addressing the situation.”
The foundation, which has seen multiple board members resign in the last two years, did not return a message from USA TODAY seeking comment.
Austin says the “tragedy” is that Pitt’s effort to help the flooded Lower Ninth after Katrina showed his “heart was in the right place” but his foundation has been “almost an epic failure.”
“He saw people hurting and he wanted to help,” Austin said. “The people of New Orleans love Brad Pitt so they gave him the benefit of the doubt. They were told to be patient and they continued to be patient as days turned into weeks turned into months turned into years.”
Meanwhile, he says, homeowners were pressured by the foundation into signing nondisclosure and binding arbitration agreements to keep them quiet and help protect Pitt’s public image. Now they’re stuck in deteriorating homes that they can’t sell and can’t afford to walk away from, and they’re no longer willing to wait patiently.
“I can’t say what Pitt knew or did not know but what he should have known is different,” Austin says. “As a board member you have a responsibility to know. If you’re going to step out and do something everybody praises you for, you have a responsibility not to walk away and put your head in the sand and ignore what’s going on.”
Austin says his clients have already experienced some criticism from admirers of Pitt following the media coverage of their long-standing complaints in New Orleans.
“We’ve gotten some blowback from people thinking our clients are ungrateful, people who are under the (mistaken) impression that Brad Pitt gave them their homes. He didn’t; they’re all paying mortgages,” Austin said.”But I think people are beginning to understand that now.”
(The homeowners bought their homes through “soft” second mortgages offered by the foundation, similar to those offered qualified buyers through government housing programs, Austin said. So, if the home costs $175,000 but the homeowner can afford only $150,000, the foundation made up the difference.)
Pitt’s popularity remains strong even though his image has been battered by his divorce from Jolie, which remains unresolved after two years of accusations and counter-accusations focused on the custody of their six children. Austin says his clients are aware they are going up against a rich and famous foe in court.
“Any time you’re dealing with a celebrity with more money than God knows who, it makes it somewhat difficult for these residents,” Austin said.
Source : https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/movies/2018/09/13/brad-pitts-foundation-accused-building-shoddy-homes-new-orleans/1289374002/