D.R. Horton to return mineral rights to Florida homeowners

Reuters

By Michelle Conlin and Brian Grow

Dec 10 (Reuters) - D.R. Horton Inc is temporarilysuspending its practice of reserving mineral rights beneath newhomes it sells in Florida, according to a letter from thecompany to the office of the Florida Attorney General.

D.R. Horton, the largest U.S. homebuilder, also said itwould offer to return to Florida homeowners mineral rights thatit had kept in the past, according to the letter, which was senton Friday.

The company said in the letter that it would revisit themineral rights issue by Jan. 1, 2015 or when the Floridalegislature considers it - whichever comes first.

"We appreciate D.R. Horton's response and are pleased thatproperty owners will have the opportunity to have their mineralrights restored," said Whitney Ray, press secretary for FloridaAttorney General Pam Bondi.

D.R. Horton did not respond to requests for comment.

The move comes after an Oct. 9 Reuters story that revealedhow homebuilders across America - including D.R. Horton, RylandGroup Inc, Beazer Homes USA Inc and PulteGroupInc - had been hoarding mineral rights under new homesjust as the United States was undergoing the biggest energy boomin recent times. Mineral rights set up the holder of the rightsfor financial gain when energy companies come calling.

Some homeowners said they were unaware when they boughttheir homes that they were only getting what was on top of theirland and not the oil, natural gas, gold, water and other naturalresources that lie below.

The Reuters story reviewed county property records in 25states. In Florida alone, D.R. Horton has kept the mineralrights beneath more than 10,000 lots.

A month after the Reuters story, the Tampa Bay Times ran asimilar story about D.R. Horton. The Florida Attorney Generalthen met with the company on Nov. 20 to discuss the issue.

In the letter to the office of the Florida Attorney Generalon Friday, D.R. Horton said it would send letters to allaffected homeowners, offering to return the rights by Jan. 31,2014.

Last year, D.R. Horton made a similar move in NorthCarolina, where a group of homeowners contacted the stateAttorney General's office after they discovered that they hadunwittingly signed away their mineral rights when they boughttheir homes - just as the state was about to open its doors tofracking.

As part of an inquiry into the matter, the North CarolinaDepartment of Justice sent a letter to D.R. Horton on April 12,2012, asking for "a description of all oral and writtendisclosures made to home buyers," as well as the forms to backthem up.

D.R. Horton said at the time that it intended "for its homebuyers to be fully aware that the mineral rights under their lothave been severed and retained."

It said it instructed sales agents to disclose thereservations prior to signing a contract. It also said itdisclosed them in the deed, title and sales contract.

A copy of a sales contract, reviewed by Reuters, showed ithas a clause giving D.R. Horton "all geothermal energy andresources" located "on, in or under the lot."

"I think it is really nice that D.R. Horton is going tobecome a responsible dealer in real estate, and I would love tohave my mineral rights back," said Alan Huerth, a homeowner atthe Valencia Golf and Country Club in Naples, Florida andtreasurer of its homeowners' association. Huerth bought athree-bedroom, two-bathroom home from D.R. Horton in December2011. He says he never realized that the company had severed hismineral rights.

"It didn't even cross my mind."

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