By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
As reported on October 2, dozens of residents were evacuated from River Towers Condominium when structural columns suddenly shifted, dropping the entire high-rise building several inches. Fairfax County engineers have since evaluated the structural damage, and deemed affected units unsafe. In fact, all three towers show signs of years of water infiltration, resulting in structural defects to wooden support columns that support the weight of each of the condo towers.
It’s clear the problem needs to be fixed. The question is, who will do the work and how will condo owners pay for it? Behind the scenes, there is probably a good deal of finger-pointing, political posturing, and blame-shifting going on. Why didn’t the condo association properly maintain these columns? Why didn’t Fairfax County building inspectors notice degradation that took place over the decades? Will insurance cover this loss or not? Who will help residents and owners defray the costs of temporary housing?
What usually happens with these kinds of disasters in Association Governed Housing is that resolution to the issue takes months, if not years. There are too many people involved, and they usually have competing interests.
If these displaced residents are tenants, they should be looking for another apartment, and working on retrieving their personal belongings. They should consider themselves lucky, in that they were able to escape personal injury and they won’t have to pay for costly repairs like the condo owners at River Towers.
Yes, it stinks that they have to move. Moving can be expensive and stressful. But it certainly beats living in a hotel or the basement of family members, getting no answers from the condo association. In most cases, tenants cannot attend Association meetings, and they have no say over if and when repairs will be made.
Condo owners certainly have a big expensive mess on their hands. Many may be unable to afford the inevitable special assessments. Others will object that the cost of repairs in relation to the value of each condo unit is too high, and, therefore, a bad investment. If the repairs are not made, many condo units become uninhabitable by owners or tenants.
River Towers may ultimately be considered for redevelopment. That would involve a lengthy and complex process that could also take years.
All of it could have been avoided if River Towers Condo owners had properly maintained their building envelope over the decades. But it is likely that owners serving on the condo board were not very knowledgeable about how to maintain vintage high-rise construction. The condo board had to rely on experts to guide them. (There are two building engineers on staff.) Were those experts knowledgeable? Did the condo association board listen to their advice? Did the owners know what was going on, and intentionally choose to put off certain expensive maintenance projects?
There are many, many questions. But because a condo association is a private organization, there likely won’t be any open meetings. Residents, owners, and especially the media are likely to receive very few answers.
Displaced residents provided with no date for return, due to structural issues
By Anna-Lysa Gayle/ABC7 Wednesday, October 12th 2016
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (ABC7) — In a meeting that lasted for a little more than an hour, displaced residents waited for answers at the River Towers Condominiums; but they did not get those answers.
“As you can see, I’m always in my flip flops. I can’t even get anything to wear. My sneakers, my son’s jacket, everything it’s in the building,” said Rita Woode who showed us the hotel that she has been living in for 10 days, with her 11-year-old son and her husband.
On Oct. 2, the columns beneath their condo slipped several inches, causing structural damage to building’s exterior and interior.