CINCINNATI — Cincinnati’s building department has ordered the Madison House condo tower to repair all leaks in the 19-story building’s windows, balconies and facades and is threatening to impose quarterly fees if violations aren’t fixed within 60 days.
The orders follow months of inaction by the Hyde Park property, which told city officials in a letter last August that it planned “a major facade restoration project” that would be “awarded to a contractor by January 17, 2022.”
Madison House did not respond to requests for information about the new city orders, which specified three code violations with broad language to describe needed repairs.
“Restore exterior walls, roofs, floors and foundations to watertight and weathertight conditions,” the city document said. “Repair windows, balcony doors, cladding, cracks in the external walls or roof leaks that are the source of water ingress. All sources must be identified and corrected as well as the damage resulting from the water ingress. This action must be applied across the entire high-rise and the parking garage.”
The city’s orders drew cautious praise from Madison House resident Edgar Ragouzis, who first raised the alarm about leaks, cracks and deteriorating concrete by inviting the WCPO 9 I-Team to document water damage at Madison House last July. He compared the building to Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida, where water intrusion led to a building collapse that killed 98 people on June 24, 2021.
“Recognizing the problem is the beginning of the solution,” said Ragouzis, who expects repairs to cost several million dollars and spark new legal battles over who should pay for the leak. He fears Madison House will “try everything they can to stop” the city-ordered repairs, but he’s grateful the city took action.
“I think the city just got educated, that’s all,” Ragouzis said. “They have been convinced that all this is a sign of a big problem. How big, we don’t know. But just to fix it, the order will be several million. That’s for sure.”
Madison House spent $51,760 to repair a garage and foundation wall cited by city inspectors last summer, according to a letter from Madison House’s board that resident Aerin Shaw provided to the I-Team in December. The Nov. 19 letter was in response to Shaw’s request for details on the building’s facade restoration.
“The board does not have bids for facade repair yet,” the board replied on 19 November. “Facade repair specifications are being prepared and will be used to solicit project bids.”
Shaw said the board has not taken any action regarding facade restoration since then.
“Finally, the city is stepping in to enforce repairs that are long overdue and that our board is either unable or incompetent to address,” Shaw said.
Madison House tried to evict Ragouzis last year by filing two foreclosure lawsuits alleging he failed to pay $20,000 in condo fees. Ragouzis responded with a counterclaim alleging that the building’s managers failed to “allocate reserve funds to perform regular inspections, repairs and maintenance of all visible structural concrete.”
The building originally won court orders for a sheriff’s sale of two 11th floor condo units owned by the Ragouzis, but those judgments were later vacated when the Ragouzis paid delinquent condo fees. Ragouzis continues to pursue his counterclaim in a court-supervised mediation process, where he hopes to force an independent review of the building’s structural integrity.
“Will the building come down? I don’t know. I honestly don’t,” Ragouzis said. “But I think we have to be very careful how we go from here with a remediation and who we use. And I think that previous people, including the people on the board, the management company, this outside engineer, Mr. Patterson, these people should be removed from the process because they have led us to where we are.”
Michael Patterson, principal of structural engineering firm SRES Inc., told city inspectors last August that no safety issues were discovered in a detailed review of the building’s facade three years ago.
“In late 2019, a comprehensive visual review was conducted of the building’s facade and of the interior conditions of 80 of the 82 fully enclosed unit balconies at the building,” Patterson wrote. “The final report of our field review was released on 5/8/20. As stated in the report, we observed no conditions that give rise to immediate safety concerns.”
The city accepted Patterson’s report on August 27, 2021, designating the Madison House facade as “safe with a regular repair and maintenance program.”
Dissatisfied with this result, Ragouzis and others invited city inspectors to investigate water damage in their units, caused by windows and closed balconies that allowed water to seep into the facade and units below.
“I’m very grateful to the city’s building and inspection department,” said Madison House resident Bertie Helmick. “They’ve taken a lot of time. They’ve listened carefully. They’ve made thousands of pictures. They’ve made hundreds of notations. And I think they’ve got it right.”
Helmick said she was initially skeptical of Ragouzis’ complaints, but joined with him to get apartment owners to invite inspectors to their units.
“We showed them some of the repairs that were made that don’t last,” Helmick said. “We showed them the repairs that haven’t been made. And we showed them the fear that many of us have about the structure and the safety of this building.”
Helmick hopes the city’s new orders will lead to a comprehensive review of the building’s structural needs and a sharing of costs between homeowners, building managers and insurance companies.
The city ordinance does not specify who is responsible for the cost, but District Supervisor Robert Wagner suggested the city could help with the financing.
“There are several assistance programs available to qualified homeowners who are financially unable to address code violations,” Wagner wrote. “We appreciate the opportunity to work with dedicated property owners who want to protect their property value and understand the need for periodic maintenance.”