By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Could owners of a 48-unit, 33-year-old condominium complex finally be compensated for the lost value of their homes, built on the site of former dump?
There’s finally a ray of hope.
In a unanimous ruling filed in January 2018, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court threw out a lower court jury verdict in favor of the City of Lowell. The reversal of the 2016 trial opens the door for owners of Grand Manor Condominium Association to collect at least $79,000 for each unit.
In June 2016, IAC posted commentary on the disappointing verdict that, at the time, left condo owners without any hope of escaping their predicament. Grand Manor sits on top of contaminated soil, including high levels of arsenic, cadmium, chromium and lead. The land is the site of a former garbage dump closed in 1954, and, according to reports, clean up costs are estimated at $11 million.
The City of Lowell has determined that its cost to fully remediate (clean up) the site is prohibitive.
Grand Manor condo association has maintained from the beginning that, at the time of purchase, owners had not been made aware of the past history of the land beneath their homes.
At the height of the real estate market, some owners paid as much as $150,000 for their condos. Following discovery of toxins in the soil surrounding their homes, values dropped to about $30,000.
Between 2009 and 2012, the City of Lowell conducted limited clean up efforts and testing required by the Department of Environmental Protection.
In the 2016 jury trial, attorneys for the City of Lowell had argued that the condo owners in the association knew about the contamination in 2009, but had failed to file their lawsuit within the three-year statute of limitations.
However, SJC concluded that, prior to 2012, the homeowners were unaware that contamination was irreversible. Furthermore, Justice Scott L. Kafker wrote that it was the City that knew about irreversible environmental hazards 16 months prior to being sued by Grand Manor condo association in 2012.
The SJC ruling is potentially good news for condo owners, providing an opportunity for them to recover equity and move on with their lives.
The status of further clean up efforts at the site, at this time, is unknown. Likewise, reports have not addressed the issue of potential adverse health effects upon residents who have been living on top of a toxic waste dump for at least 9 years.
Attorneys Alan B. Rubenstein, Stacie Kosinski, and Michael Parker, of Rackemann, Sawyer, & Brewster, represent the condo owners.
For details see SJC-12294, GRAND MANOR CONDOMINIUM ASSOCIATION & others vs. CITY OF LOWELL:
Owners of Lowell condo complex built on top of old dump could collect damages, SJC rules
By John R. Ellement GLOBE STAFF JANUARY 19, 2018
Some owners of the Grand Manor condominium in Lowell on Friday got another chance to collect millions of dollars they say the city owes them for allowing their homes to be built on top of a dump the city closed some 60 years ago.
In an unanimous ruling, the Supreme Judicial Court concluded the owners did not know until late 2012 that their property was permanently contaminated after the city concluded it would cost a prohibitive $11 million to completely remove the hazardous materials.
The SJC threw out a jury verdict in favor of the city, which had argued the owners could not collect any damages because they knew in 2009 that the environmental problem was permanent and should be sued that year, not three years later when the statute of limitations had expired.
According to the SJC, the city closed the dump in 1954, covered it with soil and left it unused until 1983 when the parcel was sold to Anthony Katsikas, who has since died. Environmental testing confirmed the presence of industrial chemicals, but in amounts so small they did not pose a health risk. The condo opened in 1985.
In 2008, when the condo association was installing some new drainage systems, the contractor discovered “discolored soil” and glass, bottles, metal, vehicle parts, and ash. New testing found high levels of arsenic, cadmium, chromium and lead, triggering state environmental clean-up laws, records show.