Condo owners say heating dispute leaves them out in cold Belt's Landing residents plan legal challenge

January 24, 1993|By Ellen James Martin | Ellen James Martin,Staff Writer

It's a waterfront condominium building with a luxurious marble lobby, outdoor pool and indoor gym. But several of the new condo buyers at Belt's Landing in Fells Point say high electric bills have put a chill on the amenities.

"We feel upset and cheated. We should have had heat pumps installed," says Kathryn Verbrugge, a dentist who recently purchased a one-bedroom unit in the building.

A group including Dr. Verbrugge and the owners of 35 other units at Belt's Landing say they bought the units with the understanding that they had electric heat pumps; instead the units are heated by electric systems that are less expensive to install but more expensive to operate.

"There's a major problem with the heating system and we will retain counsel," said Stanley Crain, an architect who purchased a Belt's Landing unit in November. Mr. Crain said the owners of the 36 units in the new building are forming a community #F association that will mount a legal challenge to the building's two principals, Elliott Sharaby and Joel Gamel.

The owners aired their complaints at a meeting Monday night with Mr. Sharaby and Mr. Gamel.

Mr. Gamel confirmed that the prospectus given to buyers said the units had electric heat pumps while in reality they were equipped with less-costly forced-air electric furnaces, along with air-conditioning units for summertime operation.

Heating with a straight electric furnace is 30 percent to 40 percent more expensive than an electric heat pump, said Tim Jahnigen, the residential energy management marketing supervisor for Baltimore Gas & Electric Co.

Mr. Gamel made no promises on whether the owners' demands for heat pumps would be met.

"We've launched an investigation," said Mr. Gamel.

He blamed the mix-up on a Woodlawn-based engineering and architectural firm, STV Group, which oversaw preparation of the part of the selling prospectus that dealt with the heating and cooling systems for the condo units. He said the condos went on the market in September for prices ranging from $89,000 to $300,000.

"I think the engineer made a mistake," Mr. Gamel said.

James Stevens, an STV Group official, said his firm had subcontracted out the Belt's Landing job to another firm that had inspected the property and prepared a description for the prospectus. He declined further comment.

"We all purchased these units assuming we would have efficient heating," Dr. Verbrugge said, "but our heat bills are coming in an average of $250 a month, while the average unit is just 1,200 square feet."

"It's just freezing," said Dr. Verbrugge, who said she received a $327 heating bill for her one-bedroom unit in December, even though she kept her thermostat set at 65 degrees.

Dr. Verbrugge and the other owners are asking that the Belt's Landing principals not only install electric heat pumps, as the prospectus described, but also that the owners be partially compensated for the high electric bills they have had to pay in the last few months.

Mr. Gamel and Mr. Sharaby purchased the 2-year-old Belt's Landing building from a subsidiary of MNC Financial Inc. in August for $4.5 million. MNC had foreclosed on the property after the original developer failed to make payments on its construction loan.

Maryland National sold nine townhouses to individual owners at an auction in March but was unable to lure an acceptable bid for the building containing the condominiums. The bank took control of that building temporarily.

Mr. Gamel said that all but four of the 92 condo units in the Belt's Landing building have been sold.

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