Letter to the editor: A personal story about non-conforming condo buildings

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Editor:
Thanks to Teresa Wippel for writing the article entitled “Council committee learns more about condo buildings that don’t conform to city code” published in the April 9 edition of My Edmonds News.

I am the seller referred to in the article caught in the consequences of this code that was changed after my condo community was built in the late 1970s. I want to present a personal side to the matter discussed in this article.

I am a 73-year-old senior citizen on a fixed income who made the decision to move to Sequim by putting my condo up for sale on Jan. 5 of this year. Because the market had been good and other units (approximately seven) had sold over the recent years with no difficulty, I figured it was a good time to do so. I had lived in Edmonds for most of my adult life and had been very happy there but decided I wanted a less stressful environment to spend the rest of my years.

A buyer was found the first of February and during the process of getting her financing and having an appraisal done, the discovery of this code change was found, which caused her bank to decline financing because of the risk involved if the building was severely damaged and this code as revised is used.

No one in my condo complex was aware of this code change that had happened years ago and, as I said, multiple units had been sold with no problem in recent years. With my sale being stopped at this point because of this discovery, I have been greatly impacted. Our closing, which was scheduled to take place on Feb. 18, has been put on hold pending this issue being resolved. I am now in a position where I am having to tap into my retirement account each month to be able to pay my mortgage, HO insurance, PUD bill and HOA dues on a condo I no longer live in. Needless to say this is putting a significant financial strain on monthly expenses considering I am also having to cover cost and expenses for my new home. Having to do this for possibly months, depending on how long it takes for this issue to be resolved, has definitely resulted in a serious emotional, financial and physical strain on me and my future.

This is a situation that has a potentially significant effect on many other seniors or families living in my complex and all the 20+ complexes identified and verified by the City of Edmonds as not conforming to this city code. Any one of those owners or a family member may need to sell a unit due to, for example; a death, need to enter assisted living facilities or nursing homes, move closer to family for needed support, move to a new job or any number of other reasons. Until this issue is resolved, they could potentially find themselves in the same situation that I am in, with any potential sale held up because of denial of financing. Like me, they are all probably totally unaware of this code existing.

Another issue for me is that because I am now aware of this code noncompliance, the chances of selling my condo if I lose this buyer is pretty unlikely. That is because now it is my responsibility to disclose the situation to a potential buyer in the future, and who is going to buy a place with this code issue hanging over its head????

As was said in this article, this situation has been known about for some time by city officials. They have not done anything to change this code to take away the uncertainty for hundreds of homeowners in those 20+ complexes affected by how it is written now. It certainly makes me realize that this could go on for months unless there is a push to come to a resolution. It seems issues like this are just passed on to someone else routinely to “look into” or “study.” It is a very slow process and those of us who are impacted are the ones that suffer the consequences of this lack of foresight on the part of the officials making this change in the code years ago.

t seems to me there is no logical reason for this to have been done. Did they not consider the consequences for the homeowners of those three or up to 17 units that cannot be rebuilt if the worst-case scenario happens in these 21+ condo communities? Did they even consider the fact that if there were to be a disaster of some sort for these condo complexes and they are told they can only rebuild X number of the units, who decides which units are not rebuilt? What about the impact for those owners who will not have a home because theirs was one not rebuilt? Why can’t the City of Edmonds grandfather these complexes built before the code change back to previous code and use the new code on buildings built after the code was changed? Seems like the right thing to do for all those individual homeowners that could lose their homes in the future because of the lack of considering the impact this would have on Edmonds communities now designated non-compliant.

Thank you for listening!

Jan Trierweiler

15 Replies to “Letter to the editor: A personal story about non-conforming condo buildings”

  1. I’m so sorry you are caught between then and now. After reading your story, I realize this could effect many, by a few signatures, destroying their lives. I wish you a speedy resolution!

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  2. What a nightmare for Ms. Trierweiler, and a potential nightmare for all the condo owners in more than twenty Edmonds buildings affected by this as well. Isn’t this why “grandfathered in” clauses were created?

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  3. Having been involved in real estate most of my life, it is really never a good idea to purchase a condo in retirement years unless you are well off financially. An older condo should definitely be out of the question. It takes an expert to analyze the by-laws and the financial strength of a condominium complex. You need to ask yourself can you afford to pay your share of painting, a new roof, a lawsuit, and the list goes on.

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  4. I am sorry that you and and my client have been damaged by this situation. I appreciate both parties patience and am hoping I can keep this sale together and eventually bring it to a successful closing. I have been consulting with the City of Edmonds officials and have requested that they put this on the next City Council meeting agenda and find a solution as soon as possible. I have informed them of your hardship and that it could affect other homeowners trying to sell their condominiums in the City of Edmonds. This time the issue is NOT going away until they fix it!

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  5. I can appreciate the frustration and disappointment of both seller and purchaser. Houses are often sold `as is’, and then often either torn down or improved. Condos are different… I guess, until property gets so expensive/scarce that more demands are required of the `old’ condos to meet the cost of the `new’ condo requirements. With the percentage of townhouses AND condominiums that are a significant part of the dwellings in Edmonds, there should be clearer communication to all members of these structures maintenance and code updates, AND if new codes are implemented those who make the code changes should be required to contact the HOA or the financial underwriter of the condo about the code changes and why the code has impacted their property should it be put on the market. Perhaps the city of Edmonds, the real estate agencies, and the financial companies that are the business and definers of real estate codes and markets, should work together. If the builder/buyer/seller provide the goods, then those who want to have a smooth transition should invest whatever time is necessary to make this process clear and transparent to those impacted.

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    1. Hi Ingrid — the list I saw didn’t have addresses associated with it. Not sure if that info is available but I will ask.

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      1. I would be interested also in addresses of other buildings in non compliance.
        Also what Code violations exactly?!

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        1. Based on my exchange with the city there are a few parts to the problem. First, they were clear that they are not zoning/code violations, but that the condos are “legal, non-complying” buildings. They were legal under zoning/code when they were built, but they do not comply with the code after it was changed at some time. They are “grandfathered” until or unless they are damaged more than 75% (I think) after which time the rebuild would have to comply with the code at the time of that damage. A bit of web research showed that this situation is not unique to Edmonds, and in fact other cities use a 50% threshold.
          My own building is noncompliant in two ways. One is the number of units, based on the size of the lot. The other is the height of the building, we’re 7′ too tall for current code. So if we had a bad fire or an earthquake or anything else that caused more than 75% damage, not only would the rebuild have to have fewer units, it would have to be shorter. The height restriction would actually take away more units than the unit-number limit.
          Personally, I think people who may be affected should attend the Council meeting Tuesday night and urge the Council to act quickly. The situation described in the letter above is exactly where most of our “top floor” owners are – at an age where the ability to sell their unit may be critical to covering health care costs.

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    2. You can contact city planning if you have a question about a specific property. I emailed them Friday morning and had 3 replies by mid-day.

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  6. It would be helpful if My Edmonds News provided a link to the original story. Then many of us would understand what the Condo Code is and what Jan Trierweiler is talking about.

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  7. Agree the 20 Condominiums ought to be published without having to contact city planning. Why is this even being brought up if the affected buildings are not mentioned?

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  8. Reading about this situation makes me wonder why city staff hadn’t made recommendations to city council many years ago as to how to deal with the issue. It seems like the recommendations should have been made at the same time as the code was changed. The city making it mandatory to rebuild to the new code if there was damage amounting to 75% is too much potential jeopardy for the owners. I believe that it would be more reasonable to require a rebuild to the new code only if the owners decide that they want to rebuild.

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    1. Adding to my earlier comments, I believe that it is only reasonable that the buildings should be grandfathered indefinitely. For example, if the code allowed 20 units at the time of initial construction why should the owners’ investment be reduced because a future code change, like a reduction in the allowed building height, would allow only 15 units?

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