Courtesy of The Tampa Tribune
Posted April 27, 2006
TOWN - 'N COUNTRY - It was everything Cynthia Williamson wanted from a Florida condominium - a small community with a view of the water and easy access to downtown.
But Lake Place, a condo complex off Waters Avenue, also came with a few things Williamson didn't know about. A questionable vinyl siding job done by an unlicensed contractor, leaks and mold as a result of the mangled construction, and now, the possibility of more than $2 million in assessments to fix the problem.
If the condo association approves those assessments, each condo owner would owe the association almost $50,000. According to the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser's Web site, that's nearly half the current value of some of the condos, making the hefty assessment out of reach for many residents.
"Who is that possible for?" Williamson said.
The condo association said it wants to find a cheaper estimate, but that process will take time, and emergency repairs will be needed in the interim. To cover those costs, the association is also assessing unit owners another $3,100 each.
Now, with the threat of back-to-back assessments looming, a group of residents is trying to force the board to step down. Residents filed a recall petition last week, with 60 percent of unit owners calling for the board's removal.
The condo association said it stands behind its action and has always tried to do what's best for the community.
The problems at Lake Place, a 46-unit community on Hulsey Road east of Hanley Road, date to 1997, when the condo association hired contractor Mark Eaves to install vinyl siding on every building. Condo owners were assessed about $8,500 each for the project.
However, Eaves didn't have a proper contractor's license. By the time Hillsborough County officials stepped in and stopped the project, Eaves had re-sided 17 units.
After Eaves was pulled off the project, the units he worked on never were inspected or re-sided. Soon, residents started noticing leaks, water intrusion and mold growing within their walls. Today, the mold has penetrated all the way through the siding.
Former Lake Place property manager Gary Saliba said he tried to get an engineer to inspect the buildings in 2003, but the condo board rejected a proposal from Broadway Engineering that would have cost $5,200.
"It wasn't going to be overly expensive," Saliba said. "But the board is the party that's ultimately responsible."
A second engineering report issued by Ardaman and Associates in 2005 recommended hiring a contractor to remove the siding on the 17 units. The board accepted that report, but ran into a familiar problem - the contractor it hired was unlicensed.
That unlicensed contractor, Above the Rest Painting, managed to work on two condos and charged the association $31,000 before the county issued a stop-work order.
Association attorney Steve Mezer said that although the painting company's credentials should have been checked more closely, some residents are making too much out of the licensing issue.
"I'm not advocating it or supporting it," Mezer said. "But they probably saved money and got a good job."
Numbers Could Go Higher
Mezer's argument doesn't sit well with residents who say trying to save money in the short term by hiring an unlicensed contractor doesn't make sense when they're now facing $50,000 assessments.
That's the price tag on the latest bid from Sierra Construction. The company estimates it will cost more than $2 million to remove and re-side the 17 units originally worked on in 1997.
Sierra's project estimator, Keith Sarif, said that total could have been less if the problems were dealt with sooner. By waiting nearly 10 years, Sarif said the damage has gotten worse and construction costs have risen.
Until crews start taking down the siding, Sarif said there's always the possibility the final total will be higher.
"There could be some unforeseen conditions," he said. "You don't know until you go in there."
The association is trying to find a cheaper contractor, board President Gloria Meyer said, but while it goes through that process, residents will have to pay the $3,100 assessment to cover temporary repair work.
Regardless of who does the final job, Meyer said residents have the association's assurance that this time it will be done right.
"Now we make sure everything is done correctly," Meyer said. "After you're been burned once, that's enough."
'A Money Machine'
Meyer's assurances don't hold much weight with Len Colodny, a former board president who commissioned the Ardaman engineering report during his year in charge. Colodny's term ended before the report was finished.
If the new board had followed through on its promise to immediately act on Ardaman's recommendation and hadn't hired an unlicensed painting company to do the siding job, Colodny believes the association could have saved residents money.
Colodny is one of the residents leading the recall effort. Not only does he want the board to step down, but he also wants them to abolish the $3,100 assessment because he said there is no evidence of where that money will go.
"It's like a money machine," Colodny said. "People out here are terrified."
If the assessment isn't dropped, residents have until Sunday to pay the first of four installments.
Even without the $3,100 assessment, and even if the board steps down, Colodny said it might be too late to save Lake Place residents from larger, more expensive problems in the future.
"The land is worth more than these houses here," he said. "These houses are rotting."