By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities Blog
By now, most consumers are aware of Chinese drywall, a defective product that emits toxic fumes that corrodes electronics and plumbing, and can cause health problems. For 10,000 affected homeowners, it turned their American Dream in to a nightmare.
Michelle Germano of Norfolk, VA, was one of those homeowners, and a lead activist in the fight for justice for consumers of the defective product. But in addition to having to cope with health problems, and learning she would have to walk away from her home due to the high cost to repair, Germano also has had to contend with the Harbor Walk Condominium Association.
While her bank was willing to suspend mortgage payments for her uninhabitable condo, the association insisted on collecting the full amount of its assessments – $385 per month. Germano had already spent a quarter of a million of dollars replacing appliances, electronics, and personal belongings. Even though she was forced to move out to alleviate health problems, apparently caused by breathing in toxic fumes from the Chinese drywall, Harbor Walk did not relent on collecting those assessments, plus collection costs.
Germano was forced to file bankruptcy in 2013, when Harbor Walk sued for about $26,000 to collect on their lien. In a settlement, she will pay back $9000 to Harbor Walk through garnishment of her wages until age 68.
The bankruptcy filing prevented her lender from foreclosing or accepting a deed in lieu of foreclosure. Technically, Germano still owns the condo. Therefore, she is still obligated to pay assessments to the condominium association. In fact, Harbor Walk has just filed a second lawsuit against the homeowner for $7000, to cover assessments for 2015.
The details are covered in this article published by the Virginia-Pilot:
Condo association files 2nd suit against woman forced to move due to Chinese drywall
An excerpt from the article reads as follows:
Germano believes her neighbors abandoned her after she became a visible figure in the media fighting for drywall families. She is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the drywall manufacturer.
“It makes me sick to my stomach that during the greatest tragedy of my life, my community turned on me for property values,” Germano said.
Harbor Walk association board President John Prewett said the community harbors no ill will toward her:
“That’s her personal feeling. The community didn’t turn on her. It’s a business decision.”
Read more here:
A business decision?
If that is truly the case, then why hasn’t the condo association offered to purchase or otherwise take title to the unit from Germano, so they can have it repaired and put back on the market for sale or lease? Looking at the big picture, why is Harbor Walk willing to spend a great deal of money in legal costs to collect a relatively small amount of assessments?
Another poignant excerpt from the Virginia-Pilot article highlights the attitude of some of Germano’s former neighbors at Harbor Walk.
Germano felt like she became a target.
“If your plan was to make Harbor Walk a non functioning development, you have succeeded,” a resident wrote to her in an email posted on the Yahoo group for Harbor Walk, which she provided to The Pilot. “Now all of us will pay for your lawsuit… although if you don’t know… there is very little put aside in the overhead funds.”
Wow. That’s harsh. Don’t you just feel the warm, fuzzy, sense of community?
Perhaps it’s time for fellow condo owners to start behaving more like neighbors instead of business affiliates.
Any one of us reading this blog could have our finances and lives devastated by circumstances beyond our control. Germano certainly did not choose to install Chinese drywall in her condo. And she bought into Harbor Walk thinking she’d live in a welcoming community, not a corporate investment – and a bad one at that.
For an idea of what happens to a homeowners living with Chinese drywall, see the following Consuemr Product Safety Commission report:
To fix the problem, it can cost more than the home is worth. That’s why so many homeowners have walked away.
(* A link to a WPTV report on Chinese drywall appeared on when this blog was originally posted. However, the video has been taken down from the television station’s website.)
As for suing developers, construction companies, and the drywall manufacturer – a class action lawsuit resulted in a settlement for some homeowners, but falls far short of covering their actual losses. Although the drywall is no longer supplied to US markets, the statute of limitations has run out for remaining homeowners.