BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
The Siena was touted as one of Montclair’s most luxurious condominium buildings when it opened in 2008.
Developed on the former Hahne’s Department Store property, the building’s owners quickly sold all but eight of its 101 units as buyers sought what the builders termed an “enclave of luxury in an urban village setting” at Church and South Park streets.
But soon owners of these luxury condos were plagued with leaks through walls, ceilings, windows and doors, which eventually led to mold in their residences. The underground garage was prone to flooding.
After attempts by the developers — Pinnacle Companies, Kohl Partners and Herod development companies — to remediate the problem came to no avail, in 2009 the Siena Condominium Association hired an engineering firm to assess the problems. The report listed improperly installed roofing, windows, doors and fire protection, and poorly installed facade materials and garage walls.
In 2011, the condominium association filed suit against the developers and numerous contractors that had worked on the building, alleging construction defects that resulted in deteriorating conditions in at least a quarter of the condos. The suit also alleged common-law fraud, negligence and breach of contract and warranties.
Now Siena residents will begin to get some relief, as a settlement reached in October 2019 will allow new roof work to begin on the building’s three roofs this week. On Wednesday, Aug. 5, a crane was on a closed Church Street to deliver roofing materials.
In 2014, Ken Mesnick bought his condominium, knowing about the problems when he moved to Montclair from his Lincoln Center neighborhood on 66th Street. As a board member of his previous condo association, where he worked to solve disputes, he thought the ones at the Siena would be settled soon after moving in.
“We bought it with eyes wide open,” Mesnick said.
Being on the fourth floor he doesn’t get too much leakage, he said; the worst is on the sixth floor. As the problems persisted with only the association making repairs and the litigation dragging on, in 2017 he joined the board of the association, aiding in the negotiations with the developers and becoming president in 2019.
But Jill Williams’ second-floor unit has been leaking since she purchased it in 2015. During Tuesday’s tropical storm she had the towels back out to collect the rain that was running in.
She is hoping a new roof will solve the problem.
Through the settlement reached in October for an undisclosed amount — although some court documents cite Herod as reaching a $2,950,000 settlement with its insurance carrier — the association can now fund new roofs and waterproofing of terraces, and address the garage water issues.
The issues with leaky windows and patio doors installed by PVC Industries and the facade installed by Acies Group are still in the courts, with an October court date set.
Brian Stolar, president of Pinnacle Companies, said that due to the many contractors and insurance companies involved in the settlement he could not comment.
“We were only one party in a multiparty matter,” Stolar said. “The good news is that they [the association] have the funds and a plan to resolve all.”
The association retained Morris Engineering, which developed a plan to fix the problems and hired James Joseph Roofing, which is expected to have the roof completed in September. The waterproofing is expected to be done in October, and the garage to be repaired by year’s end.
Mesnick said that after 10 years the residents are eager to have the repairs done, hoping their property values will go up.
“The building has developed a reputation that is not great. You can’t have a first-class building if you have fear of leaks,” he said.
But even during the lengthy suit, in 2015 Pinnacle released the remaining eight condominiums, asking $479,900 to $610,000. Last year, a two-bedroom sold for over $465,000.
Resident Jean Paul Makhlouf said he was aware of the suit when he bought his condominium in 2017, but knew it would get “squared away.” Although he has seen some of the problems the sixth-floor residents have endured, his second-floor unit has not had any problems.
“It’s unfortunate it took so long, but better late than never,” Makhlouf said.
He said that the building is well-maintained and offers 24-hour concierge service, and that he is looking forward to getting his new terrace.