Bad roofs, road fight irk residents
Lake officials say they shouldn't be blamed for troubles at Magnolia Pointe.

Article Courtesy of Orlando Sentinel
By Dan Tracy 
Published March 7, 2004

CLERMONT -- Whenever a hard rain falls, Kevin Alarie checks the ceiling in the spare bedroom of his $128,000 condominium in the exclusive, gated community of Magnolia Pointe.

As often as not, he finds a gray stain forming from water leaking through his roof, despite several attempted fixes during the 21 months he has lived there.

"Why don't you just do it right the first time?" the 41-year-old salesman asked. "I just want it done."

He is not alone. Residents in his and seven other condominium buildings have complained of leaks and roof flaws so numerous no one has been able to count them all.

Adding to their woes is a lawsuit seeking payment that could approach $1 million from virtually everyone living in Magnolia Pointe -- from the condos to the $600,000 estate houses on Johns Lake -- because of a dispute between the former developer and adjacent property owners over rights to use the main road into the subdivision.

"People shouldn't have to put up with this crap," said Jeff Wallace, a 47-year-old commercial real estate broker and four-year resident of the hilly subdivision off State Road 50, just inside the Lake County line.

Wallace and others in Magnolia Pointe, which has more than 250 homes and condos and is still growing, assumed that government -- which issued the development permit and inspected the houses -- would protect them from such troubles. But government oversight does not guarantee a fault-free house or community. That conclusion was among the findings of a yearlong investigation of new home construction in Central Florida by the Orlando Sentinel and WESH-NewsChannel 2.

The series, published late last year and called "Building Homes: Building Problems," showed that neither builders nor government regulators have been able to keep up with the record-breaking new-home construction of the past five years. That rush to build often results in homes of questionable quality, including some with code violations.

A Sentinel-WESH inspection of 406 Central Florida homes built in 2001 turned up 132 apparent violations of the state's building code. But it's possible more were missed. Many areas checked by building officials -- the roof, for instance -- could not be seen by the Sentinel-WESH inspectors because they were covered by concrete, drywall and insulation.

The series also found significant differences in the way the state building code is enforced in Central Florida. Though the code is part of state law, it is enforced by inspectors working for counties or cities.

A review of records from 2000 to June 2003 in six counties revealed that Seminole flunked the most inspections, at 27 percent, while Lake was at the lower end of the scale, at 13 percent. Osceola rejected the fewest inspections, at less than 6 percent.

Code has changed

Lake planning and building officials approved Magnolia Pointe, including signing off on roofs they now concede are rife with code violations. But they maintain they should not be blamed, arguing they did not see all the necessary documents about the contested road and were enforcing a building code -- since discarded -- that did not call for final roof exams.

Those explanations do little to comfort residents.

"We have been put in a situation that we shouldn't have been put in," said David Bryant, a 35-year-old salesman who moved with his family into a $240,000 house in 1999.

No one disputes that roofs of eight Magnolia Pointe condominiums show multiple code violations, ranging from bad flashing and cracked and falling tiles to missing vents. Inspections by roofing consultants, one in October and the other in December, found numerous faults.

One of the consultants recommended reroofing six of the eight buildings. The second suggested the roofs could be repaired. Estimated costs could run as high as $60,000 per six-unit building.

Lake County officials, asked by residents and the general contractor to inspect the roofs, agree they violate building codes but stop short of saying they should be replaced.

Lake's chief building official, Dale Greiner, said the roofs must be fixed so they no longer leak. His inspectors didn't discover the problems during construction, Greiner said, because building permits were pulled before the new code calling for final roof inspections went into effect July 2001. The old code basically called for framing and other inspections that peripherally included the roof.

General contractor Philip Edgington, who supervised construction of the condos, said he has tried to repair the leaks, but the problems continue.

Edgington, of Clermont, said there might be legal action between his company and the subcontractor he hired to install the roofs. "We are endeavoring to take care of all the situations," Edgington said, declining to be more specific.

'A lot of problems here'

That can't happen soon enough for condo resident Jack Wallace (no relation to Jeff Wallace), who had a leak fixed in his garage and worries about what might come next.

"There's a lot of problems here," said Wallace, a 63-year-old retired automotive manager who moved into his $116,000 condo in December 2000.

Many residents at Magnolia Pointe contend the ultimate responsibility for their woes lies with Daniel Decker, the Lake County developer who carved the enclave out of abandoned citrus groves.

Decker, his detractors say, hired Edgington. He also owned the project when the road, landscaping and guardhouse were built partly on land just to the west of Magnolia Pointe that is owned by Cra-Mar Groves and David Warren, an Orlando investor.

Decker, Cra-Mar and Warren, public records show, had agreed in writing to share an easement on which the road is built so all three property owners could get to their land. The Cra-Mar and Warren properties, nearly 200 acres in all, remain old citrus groves. The area generally is approved for housing and, closer to S.R. 50, commercial development.

But the Magnolia Pointe gate and guardhouse has closed off the road, blocking access to the Cra-Mar and Warren land, leading the owners to sue residents of the subdivision because their association now owns the disputed property. A source familiar with negotiations said Cra-Mar and Warren want "high six figures" to settle.

Cra-Mar's attorney did not return calls and Warren's attorney, Bob White, would not discuss settlement talks.

Decker maintains he had every intention of sharing the road with Cra-Mar and Warren and thought he had a deal worked out but has never been able to get all the homeowners to agree to it. He no longer controls the homeowner associations at Magnolia Pointe.

He said he has been working with Edgington to fix the roofs and promised they would "remedy any and all problems in an expedient manner."

Lake County Attorney Sandy Minkoff said the county was not given a copy of the easement agreement when it approved plans for the development, including the road and guardhouse. If it had seen the easement, the county would not have allowed the work to start, he said.

Minkoff said the best remedy is allowing the courts to sort out the land squabble.

A 1998 letter written by a Lake County engineer, Kenneth Stewart, to a Cra-Mar attorney and part of the court file said the county "does not insert itself into matters of private entrance and egress agreements."

The land dispute could take a year or more to wind its way through Lake County Circuit Court. Meanwhile, the pending lawsuit clouds residents' titles to their homes, which can make a sale more difficult.

Such uncertainties upset many Magnolia Pointe residents, including Becky Elswick, a Lake County School Board member who moved with her family into a $430,000 house on Johns Lake during 2000.

"It's a frustrating kind of situation," she said.