Every home buyer worries and most of these worries fall into one of two buckets: either buying a money pit or suffering from declining value. And most of these buyers do enough due diligence to avoid these problems. But what would happen if you did all your due diligence and bought a solid home but then the game changed? What if your worst nightmare came true and your condo tried to secretly kill you and take all your money and then your association board turned against you and made your life even more of a living hell?
Well, that's exactly what happened to Brad Wells and his nightmare started in 2001 and he still hasn't woken up from it. I had heard this story before but I didn't remember Brad's name when he called me earlier this week but after a few minutes I said to him "Oh, you're that guy!" Brad reached out to me after finding his 180 unit condo building, 1000 W Washington, at the top of the No Lend List I published a while back. The reason it's at the top of the list is because of all the problems that Brad had with his unit, the building, the condominium association, and the resultant lawsuits. Brad is trying to draw attention to his cause.
Curbed Chicago covered Brad's saga in a post entitled Help! My Condo Is Killing Me, which reads like an episode of House. In short his problems began with blisters, headaches, night sweats, and coughing. Eventually he progressed to vomiting, shortness of breath, and a cracked and bleeding tongue. It wasn't until 5 years later that he started to connect the dots. His condo association had engaged a contractor to make repairs to the roof and masonry. The work was allegedly shoddy, done without the proper permits, was in violation of the building code, and water leaked into Brad's apartment. After testing for mold Brad discovered that the levels were off the charts - literally. Brad moved out of his condo, was treated for his condition, and eventually recovered.
Brad sent me some photos to corroborate his story and I have added them to a slideshow at the bottom of this post - with the exception of the photos of blisters on his hands, feet, and chest. I decided that those might be a bit too much for general audiences. Have you ever seen a dermatology text book?
But the story doesn't end there. 6 years of constant illness took a toll on Brad's career. Brad tried to get his association to remedy the situation but he met with stiff resistance. Multiple lawsuits were launched because Brad wasn't the only one affected by the mold. Insurance companies got sucked into the skirmishes. The city of Chicago is involved. Insurance companies are suing the building and the board members. The building is even suing several unit owners, including Brad! It is such a bowl of litigation spaghetti that I don't know how the courts will ever sort this out.
And because the association did not remedy the situation in a timely fashion several condo owners simply walked away from their units. Brad wasn't so lucky as to be able to stick a bank with his loss since he paid cash - something he now regrets.
Brad's story is pretty darn credible because he backs up all his claims with a plethora of documenation which is available at a special Web site he has created to expose the lawsuits at 1000 W Washington. Why would he go through all the trouble of creating this elaborate Web site? Because he can't get no satisfaction.
Just to give you an idea of how bad things are at 1000 W Washington let me highlight a few of the gems that Brad highlighted for me:
- He believes that the association is currently in default on a loan they took out.
- He has an extensive list of all the building code violations with supporting documentation
- As you can see on the Circuit Court's site these building code violations have not yet been addressed and the next court date is set for April 6.
- Those building code violations also include rotting beams that need to be repaired/replaced.
- As you can see in that previous link the city of Chicago imposed a fine on the building of $4000 per day on May 21, 2008 that is still accruing. On that basis alone the association owes the city close to $4 MM.
- According to Brad the fine was raised to $6000 per day on October 21, 2009.
- Brad has even more stories about the behavior and incompetence of various individuals closely involved with this matter but of course none of those are as easily verified as the facts above.
In total, Brad estimates that it will cost the building $5 - 7MM to address all the issues.
But the story doesn't end here either. You see, 12 units have sold in the building in the last year. How is that possible? Who would buy in such a building? Well, it would certainly appear that some realtors - even some top producers (perish the thought!) - have been less than forthcoming regarding the issues with this building, in clear violation of the Illinois Real Estate Act. Even now current MLS listings are misrepresenting key facts. For instance, several listings in the building state that the building has over $1 MM in reserves and the building is FHA approved. But if you look at the June 30, 2010 balance sheet on Brad's site you will see that their liabilities recently exceeded their assets by close to $1.5 MM - and that doesn't even count the potential liabilities from the lawsuits and the city fines. How can they claim a $1 MM reserve? Brad correctly calls this Enron accounting. And as for the FHA approval...you can see that the FHA approval was withdrawn on November 24 due to significant pending litigation. But that begs the question of how the FHA approval could have been issued in the first place given that the property manager/association has to fill out a questionnaire that plainly asks about current lawsuits. Hmmm. Could someone have lied?
Does anyone else know of any other condo horror stories like this one?