The unit owner was in a pain-killer daze. She had surgery the day before and was recovering at her condo when she heard pounding on the door. It didn’t stop. Eventually, she heard her name. Then: FIRE! She jumped out of bed. It was 2 a.m. Outside, it was snowing. Christmas was two days away. Her next-door neighbor of 10 years died in the flames. He was found face down on the kitchen floor, next to a walker. Investigators said it looked like he fell and hit his head on the sink, according to the Ohio State Fire Marshal incident report. “It was sad. Awful. Tragic,” the unit owner said. “I never spent another night in my condo.” That’s because this was only the start of her troubles.
This happened four years ago. The unit owner, now lives elsewhere with a first-floor bedroom – in case of a fire. She says she can’t sleep. Not because of the fatal fire, but because of how her homeowners’ association and property management company dealt with the situation. After the fire, she lived in a hotel for more than two months. All the while, she said, nothing was done to fix her condo. The president of the property management company would tell insurance officials this was the unit owner’s fault because she didn’t respond to emails. Insurance stopped paying for her hotel and she had to sleep on a friend’s couch. She got fed up and wanted to pick her own contractors to do the work but the Homeowners’ Association didn’t let her. And her insurance company deferred to the HOA. This led to a dispute, and the unit owner got angry when the Community Manager, the company overseeing the condominiums, completed some of the work without consulting her. At one point, she brought a police officer to her condo to force the contractors to leave. This backfired. The contractors told the officer they worked for the HOA and the police officer said it was a civil matter. He couldn’t do anything. The unit owner left and they continued to work. She says the men flipped her off and grabbed their crotches as she drove away. She would later find out the contract company was owned by the brother of the manager at the Community Management company. The manager did not respond to a request for comment. The unit owner believes the property management company bullied her because she was a female living by herself, and she said her HOA did nothing to help her. That’s when she got a lawyer and started fighting back. Eventually, with the help of an attorney, the contractors stopped. But this came with a catch: She would have to pay out of pocket to complete the construction and the HOA would reimburse her. It wasn’t that easy. It took two years – and more lawyers – to get reimbursed. “I have insurance. I paid premiums for 10 years,” she said. “Why am I having to pay out of pocket? I feel so impotent.” Because she couldn’t afford the fixes without insurance assistance, the unit owner’s family helped complete the work. This was around the same time her mom was diagnosed with cancer. And that meant her father couldn’t be with his wife of 41 years as she underwent treatment. He was too busy fixing the condo. The unit owner couldn’t help but cry when she recalled the situation. She said it only got worse from there. The Ohio Department of Insurance told the unit owner fire claims often take longer to settle because of the complex nature of the investigation.
In a recent letter to the unit owner, state officials told her it appeared everyone involved followed the law and no one violated contractual policies. The President of the Community Management Company, said the contracting work would have been completed sooner if the unit owner would have responded to questions about paint and flooring selections, according to state documents. The unit owner sued and received a payment earlier this year for about $6,000. In the settlement, the HOA denied all of the unit owner’s allegations of wrongdoing. In turn, the unit owner agreed to dismiss any further claims. Back in 2015, the unit owner was furious with how she’d been treated and stopped paying HOA assessments.
Here’s the kicker: Now, the HOA is going after those fees and suing her for an additional $13,000 – to cover their attorney fees.