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Eight years after hurricanes, legal storm still buffets Gables

STORY BY MEG LAUGHLIN, (Week of February 16, 2012)

Owners of the 46 units in the Gables condo on Ocean Drive say they’re still trying to make things right eight years after the twin hurricanes of 2004.

Hurricanes Frances and Jean tore roofs partially off, shattered glass doors, sent siding flying and driving rain poured in, leaving the two Victorian-style buildings in terrible shape.

The plan was to bring in prominent contractor Toby Hill and respected architect Tony Donadio to make sure repairs were top notch and the condos would be safer if another hurricane hit.

Despite those good intentions, the repair work has ended up in a huge lawsuit – The Gables of Vero Beach vs. The Hill Group, Donadio & Associates and eight other corporations – because the condo association said many of the repairs to the oceanfront development were shoddily done.

Now, the stack of paper that makes up the voluminous court case rises higher than a kitchen counter, and the suit, which involves 21 lawyers from all over Florida, drags on.

“Hill was careless and negligent in performing its work because of its failure to comply with the requirements of the Florida Building Code with proper and approved construction plans and specifications....” the suit alleges. Furthermore, Donadio & Associates, Architects, the lawsuit says, “failed to adequately supervise the remedial work.”

Lawyers for the condo association listed 125 repairs that they said were substandard. 

The Hill Group, responding on behalf of itself, the architect and the subcontractors, said that much of what was in the complaint “was not included in our contract.” The company also offered to make some of the repairs – an offer which apparently wasn’t enough for the condominium association.

The suit accuses the project manager of “failing and refusing ... to provide the Association with copies of bi-weekly reports and monthly status reports about the work” which resulted in a breach of the contract. Also, according to the suit, the aluminum siding company, Intra Coastal Renovators, did “not follow engineering requirements for the spacing of the anchors....”

It continues: Sun Sky Roofing put on metal roofing panels “that are corroding in the oceanic environment.” Simonton Building products, installers of impact resistant windows, installed windows that are “missing the certified label indicating the windows meet the heavy commercial classification required....”

All told, the suit lists problems ranging from concrete falling off a building in chunks to a yellowing bolt in a gate, which  meant:  “As a direct result of violations (of the Florida Building Code) the Association through assessment of its members has been and will be required to expend large sums of money for repair and maintenance.”

Residents say owners of the two-bedroom condos were assessed over $100,000 for repairs each several years ago, and owners of the three-bedroom condos paid even more. The appraised value of the condos, according to the Indian River Property Appraiser’s Office, is about $350,000.

Despite the problems claimed in the lawsuit, the two five-story buildings with gables and charming gingerbread woodwork at 2700 Ocean Drive are well-kept and appear in good condition. The property’s immaculate grounds are dotted with palms and hibiscus.

The ocean is right there. The heated pool is large and pristine. Typically, condo residents talk about how much they like living there, although without giving their names to a reporter for fear of angering the condo board.

“We’re in the middle,” said one unnamed resident. “If we say good things, we hurt the lawsuit. If we say bad things, we hurt our chances of selling or renting our condos.”

True, there are some cracks in the underground garage concrete walls and some water gets in under a few of the condo doors during a hard rain. But mostly the place seems extremely livable – except for one glaring, telltale sign. A fourth-floor balcony overlooking the ocean is held up with wood beams because metal supports are crumbling the concrete, and moisture in the concrete is, in turn, corroding the rebar.

Who’s to blame for the corrosion should become clearer as the lawsuit continues, which it could do for years.

Though none of the attorneys involved in the suit would talk about it or let their clients talk about it,  Doug Andrews, a Ft. Lauderdale attorney, said the suit is typical because it was “very unwieldy.” So many parties are involved, he said, and every little thing has to be well-documented.

“The kitchen sink gets thrown in and these lawsuits drag on and on,” he said.