Condo owners settle lawsuit

Residents faulted design, upkeep of Springleaf complex

March 14, 2001|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Residents of an Elkridge condominium complex have reached a settlement with a well-known Howard County developer and the builders and subcontractors associated with the 74-unit complex, staving off what was expected to be a lengthy and complicated trial in Howard County Circuit Court.

Officials with the Council of Unit Owners of Springleaf at Orchard Club Condominium Inc. have agreed to settle for $1.425 million from developer L. Earl Armiger, builder James W. Miller Inc. and others three years after the condominium association filed suit claiming that the complex was not built or designed properly and that money was never set aside for upkeep as promised.

The settlement was tentatively reached shortly before the trial was scheduled to start in December in Howard County, but the parties, who also included more than 20 subcontractors, took several weeks to work out the details, said attorneys in the case.

While a settlement "never takes care of all the problems," stated lawyer Barry L. Steelman, who represented the condominium owners, he said he is happy with the outcome.

"I'm very pleased we were able to get a settlement on behalf of the association to allow them to fix a number of the problems plaguing the community for a number of years," he said.

The settlement money will go to the condominium association, which will decide how it is disbursed, Steelman said.

Although Miller, the builder, does not concede any wrongdoing, the settlement avoids the trial process and the uncertainty of the jury verdict, said Miller's lawyer, Matthew T. Angotti.

"I thought overall this was a well-done project, but we're not blind to the fact you can build a ... structure and ... have a problem or two," he said.

Armiger and his lawyer, Mark Mixter, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

In a 78-page complaint filed in September 1997, the condominium owners alleged shoddy workmanship and failure to adhere to building and fire codes. In addition, they charged that money they paid to the developer for long-term upkeep had not been set aside for repairs.

The lawsuit listed numerous problems that caused flooding, unsafe conditions and deterioration of the complex. Those problems require repairs, some of which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to court papers. Among the hazards, the lawsuit said, was improper design of the water run-off system - creating "a river" in front of units that turns to a thick coat of ice in the winter.

Prospective buyers also were told that the trees behind the complex would remain undeveloped and paid more for a view of the woods, but that property was later developed, according to court papers.

The lawsuit also alleged that promises by the developer and manager to set aside money from condominium owners' monthly assessments for upkeep and major repairs were not kept. As a result, those costs fell on the unit owners, the papers state.

The settlement addresses all the parties except the architect. The condominium association has reserved its right to pursue claims against the architect, Steelman said.

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