The Pointe condo owners press developer to repair problem-plagued complex

October 11, 1992|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,Staff Writer

ABINGDON -- Condominium owners at The Pointe in Constan Friendship say they feel ripped off, frustrated, angry and scared. They bought into an alleged giant lemon of a housing development in the last four years and fear the bitter taste will last longer than the roofs over their heads.

Problems with leaks, buckling floors, drafty windows, faulty plumbing and peeling paint cropped up almost immediately. Then an independent engineering firm, hired by the Council of Unit Owners, warned the residents that structural design flaws, inferior material and shoddy workmanship could allow the roof trusses to collapse under the weight of a heavy snow.

The project, of 228 units costing about $75,000 each, is among the rolling hills off Tollgate Road and Route 24. A billboard at that intersection proclaims: "Welcome to Constant Friendship, the Best Community in Harford County."

The two-bedroom brick units with optional den and ample parking appealed to retirees and younger couples alike when The Pointe Inc., a subsidiary of Henderson-Webb Inc., began developing and marketing the complex in 1988.

"We're stuck," said unit owner Dorothy Epstein, 64. "Who would be stupid enough to buy here now?"

State laws mandate that sellers disclose all structural defects and pending litigation when selling a unit.

"Even if someone still wanted to buy my unit, what bank would loan them the money?" said unit owner Betty Suchanek, a 70-year-old widow with a heart problem who figured she was buying her "last, worry-free home."

Those who bought with investment in mind feel duped, too.

"We learned we couldn't refinance our mortgage," said owner Stephen Soul, 27, a journeyman electrician. He and his wife, Robyn, chose to buy their two-bedroom unit at The Pointe a year after their wedding in 1987.

"It was strictly a short-term thing, as far as we were concerned," Mr. Soul said.

"We wanted to start a family and move on," he said. Now we have two children and have outgrown the place, but where can we go?"

Perhaps nowhere but to court.

A Dec. 2 trial date is set in Harford County District Court to rule on the unit owners' suit that asks the court to require Henderson-Webb to make emergency roof truss repairs, said James E. Edwards Jr., attorney for the owners.

"We still hope that date can be moved forward so this matter can be resolved before the first snowfall," he said.

Henderson-Webb Inc., according to Dun & Bradstreet Market Identifiers, lists its president as Robert E. Meyerhoff and its mailing address on Cranbrook Road in Cockeysville. Corporate records filed with the state Department of Assessments and Taxation indicate that Mr. Meyeroff, as president of Walton Land Co., signed Articles of Amendment changing its name to The Pointe Inc. in May 1988. The mailing address is the same as that of Henderson-Webb Inc. in Cockeysville.

Mr. Meyeroff did not return several telephone calls or answer messages. In one instance a woman said Mr. Meyeroff would have no comment about The Pointe. Asked for her name, she said, "No comment," and hung up.

After the civil lawsuit was filed by the Council of Unit Owners against The Pointe Inc., Henderson-Webb Inc. and Skarda and Associates Inc., a Baltimore structural engineering firm, Henderson-Webb voluntarily began repairs to the roof trusses in December 1990.

"The original suit stemmed from an overwhelming majority vote TC by the unit owners to pursue a resolution in court," Mr. Edwards said.

The roof repairs were completed in 13 of the 19 buildings before the work stopped after a second lawsuit to speed up the work was filed last January.

The trusses in question, court records show, are said to be out of plumb, missing plates and, in some instances, improperly placed so as to cause weight bearing problems for the entire structure.

R. Madison Mitchell Jr., chief of building services for Harford County, said county inspectors were not responsible for the situation at The Pointe.

"As long as a company is a licensed, professional engineering firm," the county will certify it to do the inspections for any builder," Mr. Mitchell said. "I can't explain what happened at The Pointe."

He would not comment on specifics involving the project, the developer, builder or engineering firm responsible for inspecting the construction.

"We do make spot checks as work is being done in the county," said, Mr. Mitchell, "but I can't say any records are kept."

Asked why Harford County inspectors have not made some sort of determination regarding the safety of the roof trusses at The Pointe, Mr. Mitchell said, "I can't comment."

Ultimately, the case will be decided in the courtroom while Mrs. Epstein frets over her husband, who had a stroke in May.

"I know in my heart that all the stress over living here caused his stroke," she said.

And others like the Souls live with a concern that their roof collapsing. They are concerned about liability, should such a catastrophe occur.

"We've been warned by structural engineers," Mr. Soul said. "We've also been told not to purchase heavy furniture or invite a lot of people into our unit.

"Does that make us liable if something serious happens?"

This question was posed to staff members at the state insurance commissioner's office and the state Attorney General's department of licensing and regulations.

They agreed it's an intricate legal question involving the original contract language between the parties, the type of matter that likely could only be resolved in court.

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