Homes must be secured in East Manatee's Willowbrook community

nwilliams@bradenton.comAugust 16, 2012 

MANATEE -- If the Willowbrook townhome owners in East Manatee continue to refuse repairs and disallow their decks to be closed off due to unsafe conditions, the condo association, and as a last resort, Manatee County government, will have to perform mandatory procedures.

Because the balconies are the property of the Willowbrook Condo Association, the association may resort to hiring a certified building contractor to block access to the unsafe balconies from the outside of the units if occupants refuse entry, according to Manatee officials.

To secure access to the decks, the balcony doors will be screwed shut or plywood will be installed to

block entry.

The association was given 30 days by the county to address the unsafe conditions on the balconies. The time allotted to address the situation began once letters were mailed to the association from the county.

If the association does not address the unsafe conditions within that time, the county will step in. "We have the right to secure the property if and when it becomes necessary," said C.J. Dupre, the county's building official. "We can also place a lien on the property to recover the costs of repair. If and when it's determined, we have the right to abate the condition. We have to make sure there are no life safety issues."

Roughly 10 percent of the balconies in the community have been ruled unsafe by county inspectors, citing sinking floors, loose rails and separation along window frames.

The inspections were exclusive to the decks but residents have said the damage is as significant to the inside of their homes, which have water damage due to rain pouring in from the roof, mold, moisture inside the walls and various construction defects.

Dozens of residents are asking KB Home, the developer of the community, to buy back their homes.

Last week, several residents denied a subcontracting company hired by KB Home entry to close off access to the balconies, a temporary fix. So far, 20 of 27 balconies inspected have been ruled unsafe. Only two homeowners allowed the subcontracting company to secure access to the balconies.

Dupre said Willowbrook is an unusual situation. The unsafe balconies are not a risk to the general public but only to the individuals occupying the town homes. In other situations, he said, unsafe homes are fenced off from the general public or demolished.

Mike Hamilton, a licensed contractor and president of CMM Commercial Contractors Inc., performed a thorough inspection of the residence of Willowbrook homeowner Roxanne Miller last year and testified before the American Arbitration Association on the condition of her home. He reported numerous construction flaws and said some of the units may be beyond repair.

"I recommended they tear it down," Hamilton said he told KB Home. "It would be more expensive to fix it than build it."

Prior to the inspections, the condo association submitted a claim to KB Home regarding the damage. The details of that claim were not made available.

KB Home responded to the ongoing situation in a statement Wednesday:

"KB Home is making repairs in the Willowbrook community, and stands ready to immediately address the remaining homeowners' concerns once they provide access to the impacted homes. We continue to work closely with the Willowbrook Association to ensure there is an appropriate protocol that will allow us to make the necessary repairs."

Sanjay Kurian, the attorney representing the condo association, declined to comment Wednesday.

Nick Williams, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 7049. Twitter:@_1NickWilliams

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