When the builders of the Siena announced their new condominium development in 2006, they described it as an “enclave of luxury in an urban village setting.” Then last November, news broke that the luxury condos were plagued with mold.
On June 8, the Siena Condominium Association filed suit against the parties responsible for the development, design, construction and sale of the Siena.
This action was brought against multiple parties including the Pinnacle Companies, Kohl Partners, and Herod development companies for extensive construction defects and “resulting deteriorating conditions.” Other responsible parties may be added. The suit does not ask for a fixed monetary amount but requests “compensatory damages, interest, reasonable attorney’s fee and costs, and for such other, further, and different relief as the Court may deem just and proper.” The suit also cites violations of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, as well as common law fraud, negligence, and breach of contract and warranty, as its basis.
The suit includes 14 counts against the defendants. Included in counts are breach of warranties, misrepresentation in advertising the Siena, breach of contract for failing to conform to building codes, and negligence. The suit also charges that Kohl Partners was a general contractor on the project with Herod and their partner as well, creating a conflict of interest. It also singles out Kohl Partners President Alan Litt, Kohl Construction Group CEO Jonathan Litt, and Pinnacle Companies CEO Brian Stolar, three of the individual defendants, who as controlling members of the Siena’s board of directors did not see to any necessary repairs before the Siena Condominium Association (SCA) assumed control of the building in March 2009.
The details of this suit were provided to Baristanet by Robert Epstein of the law firm Greenberg Traurig in Florham Park, who is representing the SCA. The suit says that construction defects require immediate attention and repair, and that the SCA cannot afford to pay for the necessary reconstruction. The suit recognizes every resident as a member of the SCA.
This united front could not have come any sooner for Raniya Kassem, a Siena resident who filed her own suit against the developers after her unit became uninhabitable. She was forced to move to quarters elsewhere in the building after toxic mold was discovered in the unit she purchased.
“I’ve paid my taxes, I’ve paid my mortgage and my maintenance fees in all the time since I purchased the [unit],” Kassem said. “I’ve been paying for something I cannot live in.”
Kassem, who purchased her original apartment in July 2008, has been living in another unit for over two years while her own unit has been gutted. Both apartments show signs of leakage, with water seeping through the window edges. In her original apartment, the water seeps through the window sills and collects into buckets; even the tarp on the floor shows the effects of water damage. Parts of the wall were removed for mold remediation, but they continue to leak, and the gutted walls have not been restored. Rust is visible in the inner steel structure.
“Awful doesn’t begin to describe it,” she says.
When the developers completed the Siena in November 2007, after brisk sales of most of its 101 units (eight remain unsold), the building looked like a major asset in the redevelopment of Montclair, where it replaced the old Hahne’s department store. Almost as soon as residents began moving in, in late 2007 and early 2008, water leakage began appearing in the building and its subterranean parking garage. A preliminary engineering report, called the “Falcon Report,” was commissioned by the SCA when it took over responsibility for the Siena in March 2009. Issued in February 2010, the Falcon Report revealed a laundry list of problems: improperly installed windows, improperly installed fire protection, improperly installed siding, and improperly constructed garage walls.
Two engineering reports, Desman I and Desman II, provided by the defendants themselves, also detail faults in construction. Desman I cites Siena’s roof (prone to “water ponding” in rainstorms, and uneven in various areas affecting drainage), and sealant deterioration in the windows and walls. Desman II, focusing on the parking structures, finds among other things, deteriorating sealant and concrete and the cracking of concrete. “If this problem is not addressed,” the report says, “the continued seepage of salt laden moisture can cause the corrosion of the structural elements of the garage.”
All three reports are preliminary. Condo owners say repairs have not been made despite repeated promises.
Attempts to contact Pinnacle, Kohl Partners and Herod Development LLC for comment on this article were unsuccessful, as were attempts to reach members of the SCA for comment. But Raniya Kassem was quite eager to comment on their suit.
“If they ever build again in Montclair,” Kassem said of the developers, “it should give great concern. No one in Montclair should allow them to build anything in this town. [Montclair residents] should be informed about the quality of their work.”
Of her own experiences, she says, “No one should have to live like this.”
In an email correspondence received July 11, Brian Stoler of Pinnacle wrote:
It is truly unfortunate that Vince, Carlton and others have had problems with their homes. We have been in business over 25 years and we have built many residential projects in New Jersey. Our track record of creating and developing successful projects is significant and we have had a tremendously low record of any problems whatsoever.
Siena is a Joint Venture with another developer, and for the record, they are not involved with the DCH project. We and our joint venture partner are addressing as best as possible the problems at Siena, which were caused by others. We also regret that Vince, Carlton and the condominium association have elected to institute litigation, which in my opinion just slows down the process and obviously makes it impossible for us to comment publicly.