By Tom Hals
Dec 15 (Reuters) - Owners of thousands of U.S. homes tainted with foul-smelling Chinese drywall agreed to a legal settlement worth up to $1 billion on Thursday, according to an attorney for the homeowners.
The settlement is to be paid by German manufacturer Knauf International, whose Chinese subsidiary made the tainted product that has been blamed for producing a stench and fumes that damage air conditioning, wiring and fixtures. The pact requires court approval.
The settlement would allow about 4,500 properties containing drywall made by Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin, or KPT, to be repaired.
KPT's attorney said on a conference call the settlement was an "excellent deal" for property owners.
The settlement value is about $800 million to $1 billion, according to Russ Herman, an attorney for the plaintiffs. The final cost will depend on the number of homeowners who provide evidence of tainted drywall and the size of homes.
The agreement would resolve all litigation over the tainted drywall. About 5,200 plaintiffs have alleged their homes contain the product, which is used to construct walls and ceilings.
Many of the affected homes were built in 2006 and 2007 at the end of a U.S. housing boom and during a burst of rebuilding following several destructive hurricanes in the U.S. Southeast.
The settlement would create two funds. A remediation fund, which is not capped in value, will allow homeowners to hire a contractor to remove the tainted product or reimburse homeowners for prior repairs.
A second fund, which is capped in value, will allow plaintiffs to file claims for bodily harm and for economic losses, such as a foreclosure on the home.
The settlement is subject to the approval of U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon, who has been overseeing the litigation.
KPT's attorney said the final hearing to approve the deal would likely be in the middle of 2012, once affected homeowners were notified.
Knauf Group is one of the world's largest makers of building materials. The German company employs 23,000 worldwide and had 2008 sales of 5.6 billion euros, according to its website.
(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Del; editing by Matthew Lewis)