Six months after building collapse, condo owners have no answers

By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities


WTOP recently released an update on River Towers condo owners displaced after one wing of their building suddenly collapsed. The incident occurred in October 2016 in Fairfax County, Virginia.

Unfortunately, six months has gone by and condo owners still do not know the official cause of the incident. Why did the building suddenly shift and sink into the ground by several inches?

And because the structural engineer has not yet completed his investigation and report, insurance carriers for individual condo owners and the condo association have denied payment of claims for loss of use and repairs.


Collapsed Va. condo owners remain homeless, with few options

By Neal Augenstein | @AugensteinWTOP
March 27, 2017 11:16 am

WASHINGTON — Life was looking good for Margaret Crowley last October. Then it collapsed — literally.

The 65-year-old Fairfax County kindergarten teacher, who was planning to retire within 18 months, was at Nationals Park on Oct. 2, 2016, watching pitcher Max Scherzer go for his 20th win of the year against the Miami Marlins.

“I got an alert from the Fairfax County Fire Department that they were evacuating a building, and I realized it was mine,” said Crowley. “I rushed home.”
Crowley lives in River Towers Condominium, at 6631 Wakefield Drive, in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County.

Last October, residents in 32 units of the eight-story condominium were displaced after one wing of the building dropped and shifted several inches due to years of water damage.

Almost six months later, Crowley and other residents in the front wing of the T-shaped building still have no idea when they can move back into their homes, and are undergoing extreme financial hardship and inconvenience.

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This story highlights a common pitfall of condominium ownership. Whenever there is sudden, unexpected damage to one or more buildings in the association, it can take months or even years to resolve insurance coverage disputes and to rebuild.

And is some cases, insurance will not cover repairs or rebuilding. One common reason for denial of an insurance claim is if the damage occurs due to deferred maintenance.

In a previous report, a building inspector for the County told WTOP that portico columns failed due to water intrusion, cause by improper maintenance of the structures.

And it appears that Travelers Insurance is unwilling to cover the cost of partial collapse of Building 31, where 32 units were damaged and remain vacant due to safety concerns.

For more information about what is going on at River Towers, see the following announcement from their website. This will be your last chance, because future announcements will be password protected and available only to condo unit residents. (Apparently, because River Towers is privately owned affordable housing, rather than public housing, public transparency is not required.)

Reading through the message above (which appeared on a pubic page here at the time this blog was written), River Towers Condo Association faces a huge challenge, guaranteed to create conflict.

No one can predict what will happen at River Towers.

But if I were an owner of one of the evacuated 32 units, I would be concerned about all of the following:

  • The engineering firm (KCE) has “found issues in addition to the failure of a column or two at the portico.” What issues? Will the other people in Building 31 also be displaced due to “other issues” found on the structural engineer’s report?
  • What is the reason for the delay in completing the cause report?
  • Now that Travelers Insurance has dropped River Towers, refusing to renew their policy, will the condo association be able to find another insurer? If so, at what level of coverage and at what cost to unit owners?
  • As an owner of a unit, will I be able to find affordable insurance coverage?
  • If my insurance company ultimately denies all coverage, what recourse do I have?
  • Will two-thirds of my neighbors willingly vote in favor of the Association taking on an $8 million loan, when only 32 units are directly affected? If the votes are not there, does that mean that Building 31 cannot be repaired?
  • Will I lose my home? If so, and the insurance company does not reimburse me for my loss, will the condo association have to buy out my interest in the association? Can I expect to receive enough money to pay off my mortgage and to pay for replacement housing?


And if I were an owner of a unit not directly affected by the collapse of Building 31, I would be wondering how much this fiasco is going to cost me in terms of assessment increases and loss of value to my unit, especially if the collapsed building is left to rot or evacuated and torn down as an alternative to rebuilding. Who will want to buy a unit in River Towers, with the uncertainty that other buildings are not similarly at risk for collapse?




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