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New York Times: Building Dispute

How a Building Dispute Can Sink a Sale

When Amber Brien, a 36-year-old researcher by day and bass guitar player by night, put her sun-filled sixth-floor condominium near Downtown Brooklyn up for sale last March, she thought it would not be long before she sold it and moved in full time with her boyfriend in Park Slope. Since then, her boyfriend has become her fiancé and her music jobs have brought her to Eastern Europe.

But her real estate life has grown more complicated. After dropping the price three times, she accepted an offer in December for $632,500, about $100,000 less than what she paid in 2007. Then her buyer’s lawyer discovered through condo-board minutes that residents of her building, Boulevard East, had complaints about structural problems. On Feb. 23, just before the building’s sixth birthday, residents sued the developer, Mario Procida, to help pay for nearly $4.7 million in repairs they say the building needs.

“I thought it would be a pretty quick sale,” Ms. Brien said. The buyer, not surprisingly, asked for a price cut, and when Ms. Brien declined the new offer of $550,000, the deal dissolved.

Boulevard East, on Boerum Place, also known as Brooklyn Bridge Boulevard, was one of the first condominiums finished in the building boom, and is now the latest to go to court. Marc Held, a lawyer representing the residents, said he filed the case because of the impending six-year statute of limitations under state law for buyers to sue developers for breach of contract or fraud.

Mr. Procida, who also constructed the Richard Meier tower On Prospect Park, said he wanted to fix the building’s problems. “We hope to address any legitimate issues they have, and we stand by our product,” Mr. Procida said.

In interviews, residents said they had dismissed the problems at first as standard for new construction. Brad Andrews, a national account manager for a publishing house, and his wife, Katie Lapham, a public school teacher, said their April 2005 move-in date was delayed because the floors had to be redone. After they moved in, they said, a bubble-shaped leak swelled from their master bedroom ceiling, and neighbors reported mud spurting from their bathtubs.

As complaints persisted, the condo board hired an engineering firm in September 2007 to determine how extensive the problems were. The firm reported that the building needed roughly $500,000 in work, including finishing incomplete brickwork.

In August 2008, Mr. Procida’s staff told the condo board that he would make some repairs. Gene Matthews, the board’s treasurer, said that Mr. Procida’s workers only put a tarp on the roof and then charged the tarp rental to the building. “I am not aware of any charges from sponsor to the board,” Mr. Procida responded in an e-mail.

A second engineering firm reported even more deficiencies, including leaks in the parapet wall and missing wall ties and joint reinforcements that drove the cost past $4 million.

In June 2009, the building asked the New York attorney general’s office to get involved. Last April, Sarah Williams, a lawyer representing Mr. Procida, wrote to the office saying he was still “committed to working on resolving the specific items.” Mr. Matthews said that the attorney general’s office took no action on the building; the office declined to comment.

After the board filed its lawsuit, Ms. Brien offered to cut her price by $30,000 more to cover any possible assessments, but that was not enough for her buyer. Ms. Brien said that she had never had a problem with the apartment, other than a bathroom plumbing issue that the super took care of, and that she did not know of the board’s complaints until the suit was filed.

Since then, her broker, Robert Bernstein of Charles Rutenberg, has disclosed the suit to prospective buyers, and two others who had been considering making an offer backed out. On March 14, Ms. Brien took her apartment off the market, and Mr. Bernstein said she would re-evaluate her options after the next board meeting, on March 30. “It’s killing all the owners as far as selling,” Mr. Bernstein said.

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