(April 5, 2019) Ocean Place Condominium in Ocean City is set for a $2.6 million renovation next fall, but three unit owners from the complex between 145th and 146th streets have made a last-ditch pitch to the Maryland Attorney General’s Office in hopes of halting the project.
A complaint filed in January claims the homeowners association’s Board of Directors didn’t properly inform the 100 owners before approving a project that has grown in cost by about $1 million because of added improvements such as railings, windows, privacy dividers and building signs.
The board’s initial estimate of $1 million to $1.5 million in 2017, the complaint alleges, focused primarily on waterproof coating for parts of the building’s exterior. To cover the heftier price tag, according to the complaint, owners face a special assessment ranging between $18,000 and $40,000 depending on the size of their units — or eight installments of approximately $2,250 to $5,000 apiece over the next two years.
The first installment, longtime unit owner and co-complainant Paige Neuhart said, was due Tuesday, with the next coming in July. The third payment is scheduled for October, about a month before the project is slated to begin.
Meanwhile, she said, owners haven’t seen a budget outlining costs for these improvements and why the board deems all beyond the waterproof coating to be necessary at this time. “We just want answers to these questions. That’s all,” said Neuhart, who lives in Alexandria, Virginia.
However, homeowners association president Scott Banker said documentation on the complex’s website highlights the need for Exterior Insulation and Finish System, or EIFS, the waterproof coating that he said “holds the building together,” as well as new windows, railing and other upcoming improvements. Banker pointed to a study conducted in May 2017 “indicating the structure was in trouble.”
Banker said the project will move forward as planned.
“The building is 36 years old and needs to be updated also due to wear and tear. We did a vote and it was approved,” Banker said, referring to a meeting in November 2018 that resulted in nearly three-quarters of unit owners supporting the $2.6 million project. The vote took place about a month after the complex’s annual meeting in October 2018.
“They really didn’t know what they were voting for,” Neuhart said, referring to the complainants’ claim that owners didn’t have the detailed documentation needed to make an informed decision.
According to a letter dated Jan. 11, 2019, from the attorney general’s office to the complex’s board, co-complainant Donald Hattier, a longtime unit owner who lives in Dagsboro, Delaware, claims in part that “the board of directors voted to pass an assessment in a closed meeting for a $2.6 million renovation project that is not being done on an emergency basis and is therefore in violation of the Maryland Condominium Act.”
In a 21-page letter to the State Attorney General’s office dated Feb. 11, 2019, Hattier and co-complainants Neuhart and Ronald Deacon wrote that owners were informed of the $2.6 million project in an email dated Oct. 10, 2018, which was 10 days before the complex’s annual meeting.
The project’s increased cost, they wrote, left owners with “sticker shock” because the original estimated cost was $1 million to $1.5 million.
Earlier this week, Hattier said he’s especially concerned about what he called the lack of a contingency plan in case costs increase beyond $2.6 million. Hattier wishes the board would consider financing the project, which would leave owners with smaller installment payments over a longer period of time.
Board members are expected to attend a meeting with owners on Sunday from 9 a.m. to noon at the Knights of Columbus building at 9901 Coastal Highway. Neuhart said she will hold an owners-only gathering Saturday to prepare for Sunday’s meeting.
The co-complainants wish to delay the start of the project long enough for owners to learn more about the project before reaching a final decision.
“The whole thing has just been very poorly handled,” Hattier said. “How hard is it to get people all the information they need?”