Condo group awarded $5.05 million

The Belgravia, near Rittenhouse Square, whose association sued the developers and engineers.
The Belgravia, near Rittenhouse Square, whose association sued the developers and engineers. (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 20, 2013

A Philadelphia Common Pleas Court jury has awarded $5.05 million, including $900,000 in punitive damages, to the Belgravia Condominium Association, which sued the Center City building's developers and engineers over alleged structural issues and violations of disclosure provisions of the Pennsylvania Uniform Condominium Act.

Lawyers for the defendants - developer 1811 Belgravia Associates and PMC/Belgravia Associates L.P. of Philadelphia, and the engineering firm O'Donnell & Naccarato Inc., also of Philadelphia - filed a posttrial motion challenging the award, which means the decision is not final.

If Judge Patricia A. McInerney rules against the defendants, they can appeal the decision, according to Ronald Williams, a lawyer with Fox Rothschild who represented the condo association.

Robin Ireland, a spokeswoman for Ballard Spahr, one of the firms representing the defendants, said, "We wouldn't be able to comment on a matter in litigation." Burns, White L.L.C. of Philadelphia also represents the defendants.

A nine-member jury decided June 19 in favor of the association, Williams said. The original lawsuit was filed in 2010 and accused the developers and engineers of misrepresenting or failing to disclose information related to construction work on the Belgravia, 1811 Chestnut St.

The award of punitive damages is "unusual" in cases involving the condominium act, which requires disclosure to buyers of such things as liens and structural deficiencies, Williams said. Punitive damages can be awarded if nondisclosures or misrepresentations are found to be intentional, he added.

The eight-story Beaux Arts-style Belgravia, near Rittenhouse Square, opened as a hotel in 1902 and has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1982. Before its conversion in 2006 to 54 one- and two-bedroom condos, it housed offices.

At the height of sales, from mid-2007 to mid-2008, units were averaging $425,000. Three currently for sale list for $309,000 to $525,000, according to Condo.com.

Alleged in the lawsuit was that a number of defects uncovered by the engineering firm were not disclosed to buyers in violation of the Uniform Condominium Act.

In late 2008, when 75 percent of the units had sold, triggering the election of a condo association that took over the building from the developers, issues with common areas and the facade were already evident, Williams said. Even before the takeover, he said, portions of the iron canopy at the entrance had broken away and fallen.

Beginning in 2009, firms hired by the condo association found, among other things, problems with the fire-alarm system, missing or damaged bricks in the courtyard walls, peeling paint, damaged concrete slabs, and cracks and exposed wiring on the concrete retaining walls, the lawsuit said.

In addition, the elevator control room suffered from excessive heat, and there was no mechanism to regulate the temperature, causing elevator components to fail prematurely, according to the suit.

An easement granted the building's previous owners requiring a minimum maintenance program for preservation of the historic facade was not followed by the developers, the suit alleged.

The condo association anticipates, Williams said, that the cost of facade repairs will exceed $2 million.


Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472 or aheavens@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @alheavens.

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