Volume 50, Issue 1 - January 2015

Condo Caution
Handle Condominium Projects With Extra Care


by Nick St. Denis


Crystal Window & Door Systems, which completed the successful Harbor Point development project in Stamford, Conn., above, stresses the importance of getting involved with the architect on a given project as early as possible.


All it takes is a quick web search of the term “condo defect lawsuit” to understand just how prevalent the issue is among the building community.

The search results are seemingly endless.

Chip Gentry of Call & Gentry Law Group says there are a number of reasons issues arise in condos post-construction, ranging from “cookie cutter specifications” being used improperly in the design process to errors in the handling and installation of the building products.

And to what does it often come down? The glazing—with leaky windows being a common culprit.

How it Starts

Abe Lopez-Blanco, president of SIW Impact Windows and Doors located in Delray Beach, Fla., says fenestration work in condo projects is very “price-competitive.”

“Most jobs are priced wrong to begin with,” he says, “and that leads to shortcuts in water proofing, and installation preparation for the product to be properly installed.”

Those factors can lead to major issues down the road.

“The biggest holes filled in any kind of building are filled with windows and doors—and the most likely entry point is around the fenestration products,” says Gentry, adding that water, for example, can enter a building through any area, but the windows often take the initial blame.

And once the issue is discovered by one owner, “one problem becomes eight problems becomes 23 problems,” says Gentry.

And then the games begin.

“The owner sues the general contractor, then the general contractor sues everyone,” says Gentry. “And what’s the easiest thing for all of the co-defendants to pile on to? The windows, because the product itself makes up a vast majority of the wall systems.

“A majority of the time, it’s the installation of the products, the handling of the products, the interaction of dissimilar materials—vinyl versus brick, aluminum versus concrete—those kinds of things. But the window manufacturers get sued … and the window manufacturer has to go on the defensive.”

That’s when the manufacturer has to lean on its product specs and testing reports to defend against the case, though there are ways they can avoid getting to that point altogether.

Early Involvement

“It’s critically important that manufacturers understand the project, where it’s located, the other players involved and the track record of other parties. It comes down to doing their due diligence,” says Gentry. “Unfortunately, more often than not, sales trump due diligence.”

That point is a big one for Crystal Windows and Doors. The Flushing, N.Y.-based manufacturer stresses the importance of getting involved with the architect and other related parties very early in the process.

Blaise Benevenga, Crystal’s New Jersey/New England regional sales manager, says he actually tries to get the architect in the plant whenever possible to show them the different receptor systems and sub-sills, among other things.

“Going over everything with the architect is key,” says Benevenga. “What they spec may not necessarily work with the product they want to use, or maybe they’re trying to reach a certain budget.”

He gives the example of when an architect specs vinyl windows when the project calls for aluminum, or when the designer needs a lesson in single-hung verses double-hung.

“These are the things we try to catch,” he says.

Steve Dawson, vice president and general manager of Miami, Fla.-based CGI Impact Resistant Windows & Doors, says “it’s very important to set expectations early on with the design professionals” and to “identify responsibility up front.”

CGI does a fair share of condo retrofit projects in addition to new construction. He says that while the manufacturer deals mostly with the contractors in new construction, the retrofit projects require a bit more “hand-holding” with the owners.

Executive consultant to Crystal Bob Nyman adds that it’s important to involve the engineering department on bigger jobs so none of the technical jargon is left to chance.

Lopez-Blanco agrees.

“Manufacturers should be more selective in choosing those to whom they sell the big project jobs,” he says. “They should hire an engineer to represent them to make sure that their product is being installed correctly.”


CGI Impact Resistant Windows and Doors’ Steve Dawson is adamant about setting expectations with the design professionals early on to “identify responsibility up front.”



On-Site Help

While collaborating with the party that is specing the project is important, Nyman says getting the installers themselves familiar with the product is just as crucial.

“Glazing companies need to understand, logistics, storage and accessibility to the jobsite,” adds Lopez-Blanco. “The product needs to be kept in a safe and secure environment.”

Another less obvious factor is the work of others on the building project.

Nyman says on low- to mid-rise construction projects, sheet rock is often passed through the windows, and highly functional windows can be damaged if workers on site aren’t trained or properly informed on how they tilt in and out.

Ultimately, it comes down to good project management and sound collaboration among everyone in the design and installation phase.


How Condo Lawsuits Escalate

There’s one dynamic that makes condo projects unique compared to other residential projects, many nonresidential buildings and other multifamily construction.

“In a condo project, you have to deal with many unit owners,” says Lopez-Blanco. “Having a representative available to meet them and address any of their complaints can put away many issues.”

However, if issues do arise down the road, things can get messy.

“Instead of one person or a couple people making decisions as to whether to pursue a lawsuit and spend the money, [there are] 50 people or more people sitting in an association meeting,” says Gentry.

“Multiple parties get sued. And the ones that weren’t sued at the beginning get sued later. You go from a relatively basic case of a condo association suing a general contractor to 30 parties being sued, 50 lawyers getting involved, as well as multiple insurance companies.”

He says the average lifecycle of litigation is probably three years, “and at the end of the day, fear typically drives the result.” The suits usually end in mediation.


Location,
Location,
Location


Chip Gentry of Call & Gentry Law Group says that in his experience, the typical hot spots for construction defects are states such as California, Arizona and other locations with extreme weather, hurricanes and substantial rain fall. Florida is also a common place for construction defect lawsuits just given the sheer volume of condominiums built there.

The Ultimate Argument

Gentry says the window manufacturer’s key argument should be obvious.

“In general, the position manufacturers take and should take is: someone ordered widgets from them, they sold the widgets and shipped them,” says Gentry. “[Even if] they’re not directly involved with the architects or the owners, the position is, ‘Look, this your project and your design, with our products.’”


Chip Gentry of Call & Gentry Law Group says it’s crucial for manufacturers to do their “due diligence” in getting involved with a big condo project, something CGI, which completed the successful condo project above, finds very important.




the author

Nick St. Denis is an assistant editor for USGlass magazine. He can be reached at nstdenis@glass.com.



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