ST. ALBANS CITY — Residents of the South Brook Condos on South Main Street have for years alleged that shoddy workmanship has led to constant anxiety regarding the present state and future of their homes.
The residents, as the result of a judge’s ruling last week, have overcome the first hurdle in their case against those they say are to blame: James and Janet Harrison, Harrison Concrete and Southbrook Condos, LLC.
The judge rejected a motion filed by Southbrook Condos to dismiss the charges against the company.
Residents of the condos built by Harrison Concrete allege that inferior construction has caused the buildings to shift and settle, resulting in extensive structural damage.
In 2011, owners of the condos told the Messenger they had been unable to sell because of the damage. The condos could not pass a building inspection and the owners also had concerns about the safety of their homes. Families with young children owned all but one of the condos in the damaged building.
The South Brook Condominium Association filed suit in May 2012 against James and Janet Harrison and multiple companies owned by the Harrisons and used in the construction.
The association made eight claims against all defendants “based in warranty, construction torts, misrepresentations and statutes related to condominium ownership,” in the words of Judge A. Gregory Rainville.
Harrison Concrete in 2003 sold four of the 16 units, constructed in 1987 and 1988, to Southbrook Condos LLC (SCL). SCL is owned William Cuonos II, then the Harrison’s attorney. Cuonos filed a motion to dismiss the claims against SCL.
Plaintiffs agreed to dismiss two of the claims voluntarily and Rainville dismissed the eighth. The other five claims against SCL remain.
Rainville affirmed claims involving negligent misrepresentation and nondisclosure, fraudulent misrepresentation and fraudulent nondisclosure, breach of contract, and violations of Vermont’s Consumer Fraud Act.
There are still multiple motions outstanding in the case, including motions for summary judgment filed by both the Harrison defendants and the condo association.
In 2009, Aimee Perrino and Sung-Gu Kang found they could not sell their condo because it could not pass a building inspection. They hired Ruggiano Engineering, of St. Albans, to take a look at the condo. That report, dated July 2, 2009, found numerous problems in the building, including cracks in the walls and basement, floor framing that was out of square, floors that were “visibly out of level,” doors on the main floor and in the basement that were out of square, and a large diagonal crack in the basement wall.
The report states there is evidence the crack was repaired at one point, but “has widened substantially since that work was done.”
Clifford Collins, of Ruggiano Engineering, wrote the report and recommended that a specialist in stabilizing foundations be contacted.
Mike Cole, of Solid Earth Engineering, then inspected the building. “I found the foundation to be heavily damaged by the differential settling that is taking place. I would agree with Ruggiano Engineering that the likely cause of the severe settlement is likely poor quality, or poorly compacted fill used during construction, enhanced by the erosion of the underlying material most likely caused by groundwater drainage into the river behind the building,” Cole wrote.
Perrino and Kang’s condo is located roughly 10 feet from Rugg Brook. The building is closer to the brook at one end than the other.
Cole estimated the cost of repairing the foundation of the whole building at $117,000. Without repairs, Cole wrote, the building would continue to deteriorate.
In 2011, another Southbrook owner, Kevin Welch, told the Messenger he could put his fist in the space that had developed between the floor of his basement and the wall.
When a roofing contractor inspected the roof, which was leaking, he told the association the shifting of the foundation was causing shingles on the roof to spread apart. Until the foundation was stabilized, he recommended they not repair the roof.
Before filing suit, the condo association approached its insurance company, only to discover that both damage from moving earth and damage from inferior workmanship were specifically excluded from condo owners’ policies.