Hudson County has ordered a contractor that performed millions of dollars’ worth of work at Harmon Cove Towers (HCT) to fix problems that have led to water infiltration and damage in dozens of condominiums in the luxury high rise development.
After a six hour hearing in which the contractor, Castle Restoration and Construction, defended its work at HCT and blamed the condo association board for the problems, the Hudson County Construction Board of Appeals ordered the company to fulfill its contract with HCT and bring areas of the building up to code.
About 35 condo owners who attended the hearing hailed the decision as a victory for HCT residents whose homes have been ruined by water damage ever since Castle and a company that was hired to oversee the work, Falcon Engineering, completed work on the façade of the 562-unit development earlier this year.
Vincent Prieto cited Castle Restoration with a construction code violation. The Hudson County Construction Board of Appeals upheld this violation
At issue is whether or not the scope of the work commissioned by the HCT board was sufficient given the design and age of the building – as Castle and Falcon argued last week – or whether the contractors botched the job and created problems where none had previously existed.
Started with falling concrete
The HCT board hired Castle Restoration to complete a façade restoration project in 2004 or 2005 after chunks of concrete began falling off several balconies at the development. Castle was hired to repair the aging balconies, re-point (or realign the mortar of) bricks at the building, and do some waterproofing work on the structure.
Falcon Engineering was later hired by the HCT condo board to oversee and sign off on Castle’s work each month. Falcon was hired to serve as a check on Castle to ensure the company was, in fact, doing the job it had been hired to do.
But according to testimony given last week before the County Construction Board of Appeals, more extensive work was needed on the aging Harmon Cove development, which was built in the 1970s.
“We were not hired to rebuild this building,” said Castle Executive Vice President Phil DeLorenzo.
He and Falcon Engineering Vice President Anthony Volpe, who also testified before the County Construction Board, said their companies encouraged the HCT condo board to do a thorough façade renovation that would have been more comprehensive.
For example, Volpe said Falcon recommended that HCT replace the “through wall flashing” that exists on every floor level all the way around the building and helps to drain away absorbed water. The company also believed that new windows and balcony doors should have been installed. The firm also recommended that sills be added to balconies to help drain water away from the building.
DeLorenzo testified that an additional $2 million should have been spent by HCT on the restoration project, although he conceded that raising this money – on top of the $5.78 million condo owners were already paying for the project – is a tall order in a difficult economy.
As is typical in condominium developments, HCT residents paid for the restoration work through assessment fees charged by the condo association.
Citing monetary concerns, the HCT condo board, DeLorenzo testified, ultimately decided to do a much more limited façade project that focused on more immediate needs.
Complaints began after work completed
Castle and Falcon completed much of the façade work in late 2009 and early 2010. Almost immediately residents began complaining about water intrusion in their condo units.
“In January, we had the first reported, formal grievance about the façade,” said HCT condo association board member Jim Econopouly told the Reporter in May. “By March, there were 16 grievances. And the main issue was water intrusion.”
In other interviews with the Reporter last spring residents said that after the façade project their ceilings started leaking, causing wet floors and carpets, damp furniture, and mildew. In extreme cases, walls began separating from each other. An April 29, 2010 letter from HCT attorney Steven Berkowitz to Falcon Engineering stated: “HCT has a water infiltration problem, as evidenced by the 133-plus units that have experienced water damages.”
Some residents have had to move out of their condo units because of the dampness in their homes, while others have seen the value of their homes drop because of the damage.
After residents believed they weren’t getting a fast enough response from Castle and Falcon by working through their attorney, several took their complaints public and turned to local government officials for help.
Last spring Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli had Remington & Vernick, the town’s engineers, do a cursory inspection of seven HCT units where work had been done. In their inspection report Remington engineers Kenneth Ressler and Anthony Donofrio stated: “The water infiltration is a result of a number of issues, some of which appear to be related to the recent work.” Elsewhere, they wrote that “each of these units has had water damage associated with water coming from the exterior of the building, not plumbing leaks.”
The report also noted that balconies at the building had little or no drainage, which allows water to enter units through sliding glass doors; and HCT’s porous brick façade either didn’t include weep holes for drainage, had weep holes that were clogged with water proofing material, or had holes that were inconsistent with what HCT had contracted.
Secaucus Construction Official Vincent Prieto cited Castle Restoration with a construction code violation in connection with the weep holes, noting that the areas of the building worked on by Castle did not meet current minimum state building code standards.
The Hudson County Construction Board of Appeals upheld this violation last week, adding that bringing the building up to code had been a requirement of the company’s contract with HCT.
Residents, contractor respond
Castle Restoration – which holds the local building permit for the project – has now been ordered to unclog weep holes that were blocked by waterproofing sealant and it must bring areas of the building it worked on up to code, meaning new weep holes will need to be created in some areas where none currently exist.
William Pyznar, a principal with Falcon engineering – which has been terminated from the project – said of the decision, “It has always been our position that we want to complete this project and fulfill our contract.”
It is, however, unclear whether Falcon, which Pyznar said is still owed “a substantial amount of money” for its work, will be rehired to oversee Castle’s work again.
Residents meanwhile cheered the decision.
Lilly Della Galla, an HCT condo owner whose new $35,000 hard wood floors were ruined by water intrusion earlier this year, called the decision “very fair. [The Construction Board] wants the place to be fixed. That’s what we all want. We just want this problem to be taken care of.”
Fellow homeowner Gerry Garfield agreed.
“I believe this was the right outcome,” he said. “It was clear how the [board members felt]. But this is not over. Many people have had damage to their homes that is not covered by insurance because the water damage was from an external source,” rather than from an internal plumbing leak. “These companies will have to make us whole.”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.