published Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

Pinnacle draws complaints

TIMELINE

• 1974 -- Built as Whitehall Apartments, name later changed to Grandview at Northside

• 2005 -- A real estate partnership, Stringers Ridge Associates Inc., organized by Wilkinson Real Estate Advisors, acquires the building

• 2007 -- First condominium sold

• 2011 -- 94 of 137 condos sold

Source: Wilkinson Property Management


About Wilkinson Real Estate Advisors

• What: Property management company

• Founded: 1985

• Size: 7,000 units

• Communities: 28 in four states

• Philosophy: Best-in-class service to residents, employees and investors

• Quote: "Wilkinson Real Estate Advisors provides superior service and value to the residents at our communities. We know people have many choices when making the decision where to live. At a Wilkinson community, the difference is the level of personal service and attention residents get from our staff."

Source: wilkinson-companies.com

Jackhammer noises during the day and water running across the floor at night aren't what Michael and Barbara Zema signed up for.

They're learning the meaning of "buyer beware," but it's a lesson they would have just as soon avoided.

The Pinnacle Condominiums, a 137-unit development launched in 2007, was built in 1974 as the Whitehall Apartments and later renamed The Grandview at Northside.

Michael Zema's sliding glass door, which allows water to run freely into the living room during heavy rains, was part of the building's Jimmy Carter-era construction, contractors have told him.

But the puddles of water in their living room are not entirely the door's fault.

Nearly a dozen affected residents also blame the newly installed balcony tiles that developer Wilkinson Real Estate Advisors added to the units -- tiles that raised the level of the terrace above the condo floor.

Gravity does the rest, as the Zemas' water-damaged floor attests.

Michael Zema said he originally had the water-damaged floor replaced and inspected as a condition of his purchase, but it turned out that the floor wasn't the problem.

Now, the Zemas rely on a cotton levee made of hand towels to protect the rest of the condo from encroaching moisture.

In fact, they still haven't been able to fully move in. Much of their personal life remains boxed up, stashed in the corner of the $157,000 condo.

Contractors say replacing the glass, raising the level of the doors and removing the tiles -- the only sure way to fix the problem -- would cost $2,000 to $6,000, depending on the unit.

"I'm a physician and I can afford this, but some of the people in this building have already put in everything they have," Michael Zema said.

Responsibility

Zema and the other residents claim that Wilkinson Real Estate Advisors, which operates in the building under the name Stringers Ridge Associates, should fix the problem.

But Zema's folder full of unanswered complaints speaks to the difficulty of assigning responsibility, he said, in an environment where legal and ethical responsibilities often come into conflict.

Wilkinson Real Estate Advisors representatives declined to discuss individual complaints, but the company added that it was taking steps to address the issues.

Chad Brammer, the developer's president and chief operating officer, said that the damage in many cases was caused by tornadoes that struck close to the building, and therefore could be outside Wilkinson's responsibility.

"I think it's important to point out the building was hit by two significant tornadoes over the last couple of years and problems developed as a result of those storms," Brammer said. "However, we are completely committed to honor all of our warranty obligations and we will work closely with the homeowners association to do our part in overcoming these challenges."

He also pointed out that the water damage was limited to a few units, and that most residents were happy.

"The well being and quality of life of our residents is a top priority, and the greater majority of those living at the Pinnacle will tell you that." Brammer said.

Communications breakdown

Although Wilkinson has fixed problems in the past, some current condo owners say their communications with the developer have been strained at best, with most or all requests left unanswered.

"I just got the distinct feeling from them that I was just sort of getting the runaround, it wasn't their responsibility," said condo owner Sharon Cranwell, who ended up hiring her own contractor to fix the leaking door. "It was fill out this form, fill out that form; and no matter what I do, Wilkinson is going to blow me off."

But Wilkinson's actions speak for themselves, she said.

The developer's effort to smash the offending tile out of the unsold units is clearly visable when peering over resident Katrina Lindsay's railing at the balconies below.

It's also audible, said Lindsay.

"They've been jackhammering like crazy for a week," she said.

She moved into The Pinnacle after her husband died so she wouldn't have to maintain a single-family home, but now she's growing increasingly worried about the pink mold crawling across her ceiling and walls and lurking under her floorboards.

Lindsay thinks it's unfair that the developers are fixing the unsold units in exactly the way residents themselves have requested their units be repaired.

Survival

Attorneys say that Zema, Lindsay and the others may never receive a dime through legal means.

The boilerplate contract they signed includes a "survival" clause that kicks in upon closing.

The survival clause negates the parts of the contract that hold Wilkinson responsible for functional doors and windows, Zema said, which he insisted be included after an inspector found prior issues with leakage.

"I asked if I could substitute my own contract, and they told me that in that case, I could go move in somewhere else," Zema alleged. "So instead I put in my own clause."

Unfortunantely for Zema, the closing of the sale effectively voided much of what appeared to be in the contract, according to Chattanooga attorney Joseph DeGaetano.

The sections that benefit the developer -- like the paragraph that entitles the developer to recoup legal fees and court costs in case of litigation -- survive the signing. However, the parts that Zema requested be included are rendered unenforcable.

"This is the reason that buyers of property need to have an attorney look over what they're about to do before they do it," said Chattanooga attorney Arnold Stulce. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

That was little comfort to condo owner Katherine Betts, as she surveyed her buckling 1-year-old wood floor last week.

"When it rains hard, the water bubbles in," she said.

"They're blaming it on [the April 27, 2011] tornadoes," Betts said of her interaction with Wilkinson officials.

Three-year plan

Other homeowners, however, say they were victims of water damage in the porous Pinnacle years before the 2011 tornadoes struck the region.

Charles Benson's household began to get soaked starting in April 2007 when he moved in, he said. It would take 36 months to end the involuntary indoor irrigation, he recalled.

In fact, he said he never even received so much as a response until he threatened to take his complaint to the news media.

"Once I said I was sending in the media, they got on it within three days," he said. "They took the complete window casing out on the balcony, scraped it, resealed it and put the casing back in. They took it completely out, the way they should have done it to start with."

He hasn't had a problem since then.

Water began entering Chase Pendergraft's apartment in May 2008, "within a day or two" of his moving in, he said.

"The lady who lived below me, who's no longer there, came up and asked me if I had a water leak. I asked why, and she told me 'because I have water running down my drapes,'" Pendergraft said.

He had nearly given up hope two years later that he would ever have a watertight condo, as the leak became just one of many problems with the building that he said included black mold in the vents, as well as cracked and leaking showers.

In 2010, the developer finally fixed the leaks.

"If I knew then what I know now, I never would have bought the condo," he said. "I put it up for sale, but I can't sell because the developers cut the price on their units by $30,000 and I can't compete with them."

Condo owner Thomas White just wants the same fix that Benson and Pendergraft received, but he's been stonewalled since March 28 when he moved into his flood-prone unit.

"I've turned it in as a warranty repair, because after less than a year, they're supposed to cover it," he said.

But even though he's submitted his repair request for the second time in six months, "I've not heard anything back."

Adhesion

There is, however, one glimmer of hope for the saturated residents, according to attorney William G. Schwall.

Schwall said that since homeowners were offered the contract on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, and the contract "effectively renders residents' warranty null and void," a court could rule that the contract is "unconscionable," he suggested.

"It's a contract of adhesion and it's a perversion of a promise," he said.

But any court case is still a shot in the dark, since Zema and his fellow residents could end up owing attorney fees for both sides of the case.

"Is it legal? Yes. Is it ethical? No," Zema said. "It's a ruse at best."

about Ellis Smith...

Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...

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Czech123 said...

Thank you for a great article. I had been considering purchasing a unit there, but after reading this article, I believe I'll pass.

October 2, 2011 at 7:12 a.m.
NoleMole said...

I used to live there, before the conversion to condos and during the process. Buyer beware! There were severe mold issues when I was there because water leaks into the buildings plumbing chases, windows and top of building. Several residents, including a former Red Bank police chief, had to leave because they were getting severely I'll from the mold. Mr. Wilkinson, head of the group, was arrogant, mean and unresponsive to issues residents reported. Then, they took the electric meters out of each unit and started "average billing," where Wilkinson split the EPB bill for the entire property 137 ways. My electric bill more than tripled, because each resident had to pay for all the hall lights, exterior lights, my neighbors electricity.... And the four cell phone companies transimitters on top of the building. That's right, residents pay to light up the whole building and they pay for Verizon, Nextel, Cricket and Sprint's systems. When they went condo the monthly association fee was $300. Sounds like a deal until I learned what I was paying for, and what service I was not getting. The building needs. Major renovation, but all that was done is patchwork. I feel for the buyers who got duped. Unless Wilkerson does a major renovation on the building problems will only get worse. That's my experience.

October 2, 2011 at 9:47 a.m.
summit said...

Condos are renovated fully and hoa fees are $200. Cell towers pay into the budget and not take away from the budget. Noise is from the renovation as in my condo. Happy to live here with 90+ more owners with no complaints. As Chad stated, the developer responds to warranty items and offer a warranty at closing at no cost to their buyers.

October 2, 2011 at 11:15 a.m.
Onceuponatime said...

I almost bought a condo there! So glad I didn't!!!

October 3, 2011 at 9:06 a.m.
James101 said...

The only good thing about the place is the great pool and the nice view of the ladies during the spring and summer...

October 3, 2011 at 10:22 p.m.
Turbodog said...

And since this article was published the Wilkenson Group is trying to remove Mr. Zema and Mr. Benson from the Homeowners Board and Committees. Wilkenson is sighting that they did not act in the best interest of the residents...... WOW!! Pot meet Kettle....

I must also concur with James101

October 4, 2011 at 9:49 p.m.
ThatGuy57 said...

I'd first like to state that I'm very glad Mr. Zema brought these issues to light, and I'm appalled that the Wilkenson Group is trying to remove the one individual that has the resident's best interests at heart.

I've been a resident at the Pinnacle for a little over a year and a half now, and I can say that my time here has hardly been pleasant. Since day one we've had water leaks, both under the balcony door, and in the bathroom. Also, for nearly the past 8 months, there has been deafening construction noise at all hours of the day. These noises start promptly at 8am every weekday/some weekends and are so intensely loud that they physically shake our unit. My roommate and I both work late hours while also attending school, so these disturbances have severely affected our ability to get a full night's sleep. We've written very kind emails and even addressed the Pinnacle management directly about all of these issues, but our words have fallen on deaf... or rather.. uncaring ears. We also recently addressed the mold growing in our vents and were told that it "was our home", therefore "not developer responsibility" and that we would need to take care of the problem ourselves.... even though the HOA fees for our unit are over $400 a month.

While the developers have little concern for resident issues, they seem to have no problem splurging on unnecessary aesthetic add ons for the building. There is a pointless plasma screen TV in the mail room that does nothing but display photos of the Pinnacle, and recently the doors in mail room (which all worked fine), have been replaced by fancier looking doors of brushed steel. I can think of much more useful ways to allocate funding, like perhaps fixing the elevator that is constantly breaking down, or the gate entry system that goes offline on a regular basis.

I've been very patient with the management... we all have... but it's getting a bit ridiculous. As someone who communicates with his neighbors and fellow residents on a regular basis, I can assure you that Mr. Brammer's statement- "The well being and quality of life of our residents is a top priority, and the greater majority of those living at the Pinnacle will tell you that." - is nowhere near the truth. I thought that when I moved here I'd be entering into a truly enjoyably living situation, but I can honestly say that out of the many places I've been a resident of, I've never had more problems than here at the Pinnacle. I would not recommend this place to anyone, quite the contrary. If these problems continue to persist I will most definitely be moving elsewhere.

October 5, 2011 at 10:07 p.m.
summit said...

As a resident of the Pinnacle, I can tell you the HOMEOWNERS who are affected are trying to remove Mr. Zema from the board since the board should represent the best interest of the building. The developer and management company are not involved with this. The developer has been very sufficient in the past in taking care of individual and building needs. Wilkinson has constantly added items and upgraded items for the enhancement of the building as a whole. In terms of noise, we all knew coming in that renovations were ongoing and could start at 8am Mon-Sat. This is a matter of convenience/inconvenience for a limited time. There are also owners doing personal renovations near me. In terms of changes, the new doors are a MUCH better appeal, the tv also has community information notices posted, and the gates are open while staffed. We have also been here for 18 months and have no mold and have had no mold issues or water intrusion issues. We love the location and it is the best value in Chattanooga.

October 6, 2011 at 11:26 a.m.
James101 said...

The women that live there are HOT!!

October 7, 2011 at 2:37 a.m.
ThatGuy57 said...

All of Summit's comments simply sound like advertisements to me. A "limited time" inconvenience quite obviously implies a short amount of time... 8 months lis hardly a short amount. The TV does indeed display messages, messages that have not been changed in at least 6 months or so and that only say things like "HOA FEES DUE" or "NEW GRILL BY THE POOL"(the grill has since fallen into disrepair). Nevertheless... these messages are hardly anything of importance as all residents receive emails from the management anyways. Yes, The doors do have a much better appeal... which is precisely my point... I think we'd all much rather have working necessities than fancy looking amenities. I'm aware that the gates are open during business hours, that's totally normal to me. What's not normal is when the gates are stuck half open, or fail to open at all.

The prospect that affected homeowners are trying to remove Mr. Zema is absurd. He's actually trying to make a positive difference here in the interest of the residents. In fact, every single resident that I've spoken to about the matter fully supports his efforts. Sorry, Summit, but I don't think your sugarcoating is going to convince anyone.

Also, I've been documenting all stated problems with photos and video since they started occurring over a year ago. I'm more than willing to back up my statements with proof if necessary.

October 8, 2011 at 5:41 p.m.
Mel6429 said...

After hearing about this article from other residents, and reading a statement from Mr. Zema I decided to come see what the article really said. I am also a resident at The Pinnacle and the deafening noise, mysterious water leaking through the ceiling and rain water and dirt coming through the sliding glass door have all been a concern for me. I have also noticed that when I spend a few days away from my condo my terrible cough seems to disappear and come back full force after being home for a few hours. I am not claiming to have any sort of mold in my unit, as I have not even opened up the vents to look, but reading this makes me suspicious. Shouldn't it be the property management’s job to inspect for mold? Why should I have to pay for that? Sure, it's MY home, but it's not my building!

I often look after my young nephews during the day while their mother is at work, and now I am beginning to wonder if maybe I have been keeping them in an unsafe environment. Before, my only concern was that naptime is made impossible by the "wall shaking" construction noise, as ThatGuy so perfectly described it. I once went to one of the workers (which I assumed was right above my unit, but was actually 3 floors up and STILL deafened me!) and asked him if he could just stop for a while so I could get the boys to sleep. He kindly agreed and apologized, telling me that he was tearing up the hardwood floors alone. We have what, 30-40 units left to unoccupied? No wonder construction has taken so long, if you just have the one guy working on everything!

The hot water runs brown for about 3 minutes, so every time I want to wash the dishes or take a shower I have to waste a few gallons of water beforehand. The sheetrock next to my shower is falling in due to the mysterious water leak that I mentioned. No cause could be found, but a week after it happened an email went around saying there was a leak on the 11th floor, so maybe that was what happened? I was never informed one way or the other.

I also like what NoleMole said. We split our electricity and other utilities 137 ways on top of the EXORBITANT HOA fees. $400 a month! For what?! To never get a chance to sleep in, have brown water, an elevator that is often held up by workers for so long that I eventually have to struggle down the stairs, and to have all of my concerns thrown to the side by management? Then on top of that, if there is anything that good old Jim, the maintenance man can do, we get charged an extra $15 just for him to come check things out?? Why isn't that $400 going towards his salary? NoleMole said there are 137, correct? So say 40 are still vacant, I don’t know if all units pay $400, but say they do. That's a good $37,000 a month just in HOA fees (440,000/year). What is all this money going towards?! Upkeep of the pool??? I highly doubt that!

October 8, 2011 at 8:34 p.m.
Mel6429 said...

Apparently my comment was too long, here's the other half:

Every time we have guests they comment on how pretty and hotel-esque the building is, they say we're so lucky to live here. I've gotten to the point over the last year where I begin to disagree with them. Sure, we have a fancy lobby and a gym, but that's about it. The units themselves are cramped, parking is a mess and storage space in the units is almost non-existent. Ever heard of the phrase "putting lipstick on a pig"? Well, that's precisely what The Pinnacle has done. I've done social work in state housing that has better amenities than this place.

Summit, what brings you to claim that The Pinnacle is the "best value in Chattanooga"??? I'm pretty sure you could buy a nice big new house for the price of a condo, and not have to worry about half of the crap that we do. What can we do, though? We chose to buy the place, so we're stuck now, right? Is that why our complaints are never addressed, because the management know we are stuck with our decision?

I could carry on, but I already feel like my words are falling upon deaf ears, so I really hope that someone can step up help and change things. I get the impression that this is what Mr. Zema is attempting to do, but there seems to be a mixed response with regards to his actions. Maybe I'll bump into him one day in the elevator and can find out what the real story here is.

October 8, 2011 at 8:35 p.m.
James101 said...

The Ladies that live there are Hot!! Any of yall single?

October 9, 2011 at 5:38 p.m.
Turbodog said...

Amen Mel! Even if we want to sell our "best value in Chattanooga" we CAN'T! Unless you bought after 2009, thanks to Wlkenson slashing the asking price. Why did they cut prices so much? One can only believe it's because they know the building is falling apart and they want out. TheY crippled the value of condos at the Pinnace. Is that in the best interest of the homeowners??

October 10, 2011 at 11:42 p.m.
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