West Palm tile tussle: Woman, 79, livid over $2,100 condo assessment

Article Courtesy of The Palm Beach Post
By Tony Doris

Published August 1, 2017


WEST PALM BEACH -- Condo politics can turn a bucolic setting into a bubonic one.

That’s pretty much what happened this week at Portofino, a 10-story building next to Currie Park, in West Palm’s Northwood neighborhood, when 79-year-old Mary Ellen Eykel and several like-minded residents attempted a sit-in over plans to swap out the old cream-colored hallway tiles for white ones, at a cost of $66,000.

Outside the sun glistened on the Lake Worth Lagoon. Inside the insurrection clouded the condo association’s decision to proceed with the hallway improvement project without securing a vote of residents for assessments of up to $2,100 to pay for it.

Eykel and fellow insurgents called the media Monday and vowed to lie down on the floors to prevent workers from tearing out the old tiles at 9 a.m. Tuesday. It’s a big improvement project that requires a vote of the 123 unit owners, and they shouldn’t be calling it “maintenance” to get around that, Eykel complained.

Not so, said Portofino Condominium Association secretary Mary Churchill. The matter was discussed at condo meetings at the 48-year-old building for months. With many snowbirds out of town, waiting to vote would delay the project, and the project after it, she said.

“The owners would be 99 percent in favor of (the project) because the carpets are very stained and old and the paint is old and the board’s responsibility is to maintain and repair and that’s what we’re doing,” said Churchill. “We’ve done everything legal that we have to do. Our lawyer has advised it.”

Eykel and others just don’t want to pay, despite the association’s willingness to work with them on a payment plan, Churchill said.

Mary Ellen Eykel, facing, who has lived in the Portofino condo on North Flagler Drive in West Palm Beach for 19 years, participated in a sit-in to protest the association’s decision replace tile without a vote from residents.

But Eykel denied that charge and was arming for battle. “They’re in deep trouble here if they go ahead with this. I’ll go to jail. I need to lose some weight anyway. I’ve already lost about 7 pounds since I’ve been working on this for two weeks, trying to get this stopped. Something stinks here,” she said.

Come Tuesday, though, and no bodies were sprawled on the cold tile. Workers came in and loaded their tile saws on the elevators as a policeman hired by the association stood watch.

“I wanted to lie on the aisle but they wouldn’t let me in the elevator,” Eykel said. “A manager pushed me on my shoulder. He just put his open hand on my shoulder. The policeman said, ‘he didn’t push you, he was just holding you back,’” she said.

“It was a horrible day. This is the biggest travesty I’ve seen in my 79 years,” Eykel said, adding that she would press the issue in court.