Homeowners of nearly 450 units at a Canyon Country condominium complex are demanding answers and transparency from their property management company after receiving notice to pay $5,500 each for an “emergency special assessment” residents believe could have been prevented.
In November, residents of the 1980s-built American Beauty Village in the Rainbow Glen community received a notice via a newsletter from the property management company Bartlein & Co. Inc. about an estimated $2.5 million project to “repair certain beams which hold up the buildings throughout the complex,” the letter read.
Of the 446 units, 75% have been impacted by the damaged beams and 100% will require “some work performed on the beams,” the letter added.
How did the beams get damaged and could a previous inspection on one of the units have prevented the issue from spreading? These are some of several questions at least a half-dozen homeowners said have remained unanswered. Residents who spoke with The Signal asked not to share their names as they feared retaliation from their homeowners association.
Despite multiple attempts to reach Santa Clarita’s Bartlein & Co., officials only shared via email two letters it sent to residents. The company’s corporate office in Santa Barbara said it has not heard about the issue, adding that, generally, decisions to levy an assessment are up to the board of directors.
Efforts to reach board members were unsuccessful. Letters residents have received from the HOA and Bartlein & Co. do not list contact information for the board.
On paper, the company briefly explained to homeowners that a structural engineer confirmed the issues are “clearly a structural problem that must be repaired without delay” and that the HOA’s board of directors agreed to move forward with the “emergency special assessment.”
The first signs of damage arose in 2017, when one unit appeared to sag. Repairs were completed but inspections to the remaining units were not made, according to a resident who said that’s what the board of directors and company told her in November after asking when they were first aware of the problem.
“When I followed by asking why all other units were not inspected at the time, I was quickly dismissed and told simply there was no way to see because they were covered with stucco,” said the homeowner, who has lived there for nearly two years.
In a November FAQ about the emergency assessment, the HOA told homeowners that a previous paint project prompted the inspections for damage to the units after workers noticed some balconies sagged, along with some residents experiencing difficulty sliding their doors.
Come February, all homeowners must begin paying the $5,500 assessment in monthly installments of $100 or more.
But some residents said the extra expense will be a challenge, and a frustrating one, “because this is about it being a lack of maintenance,” said a homeowner.
“This is an extra $100 per month that I have to shell out of my pocket,” the resident added. “In my personal situation, I’m the sole provider and this puts a huge strain in my pocket.”
Owners were encouraged to submit claims with their homeowner’s insurance carrier to cover the cost of the assessment, but claims under at least one carrier were denied, residents said.
“The replacement of the beams is a result of wear, tear, deterioration, decay, rot, termite damage and maintenance (and) are not a result of a covered cause of loss,” read a November letter from a State Farm agent to one of the residents.
Generally, insurance companies cover damage if it’s an “accidental direct loss like if something hits the roof by accident or if a pipe bursts because it’s freezing,” said Janet Ruiz, spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute. “Maintenance is never covered under insurance.”
In the FAQ, the HOA acknowledged that its insurance carrier “may not” cover the damages.
Since the announcement of the assessment, homeowners said they have not received records of any inspections, maintenance or a breakdown of how funds will be used.
A Dec. 4 letter to residents read that funds will be used to “replace structural components of the buildings which sustained damage due to water intrusion and subsequently, dry rot and termites.” In November, the board of directors said the damage was not related to termites.
Due to several requests received, Bartlein & Co. said in the Dec. 4 letter that it was preparing a list for all units with further information regarding the repairs. As of Friday, at least the half-dozen residents said they had not received answers to their requests.
The board is required to “pass a resolution containing written findings as to the necessity of the extraordinary expense involved and why the expense was not or could not have been reasonably foreseen in the budgeting process, and the resolution shall be distributed to the members with the notice of assessment,” according to a section of Civil Code 5610.
Residents have only received a brief breakdown in the FAQ that the $5,500 special assessment is “based on the quoted cost of the upper and lower beam repairs as well as the cost of the interior unit repairs resulting from the beam replacements.”
“I just want there to be transparency,” said one homeowner. “I can’t imagine anyone asking you to give them $5,500 and then saying, ‘We don’t have to tell you anything, you just have to give me $5,500.’ I think it’s a fair thing to ask when we are being asked to foot the bill.”
When work needed is deemed an emergency, “(property management companies) have the right to do the assessment,” said Robert Lamoureux, a local contractor with more than 40 years in construction work experience, who writes a weekly home improvement column for The Signal. “But (the homeowners) need to be well-informed about what were the findings and what will be done. They are entitled to know this information.”
Some residents have started to send their questions in written form to Bartlein & Co., and have asked the city of Santa Clarita for any records of inspections or contact by the management company.
The city of Santa Clarita has recently received requests for permits to do work at some units, said city Communications Manager Carrie Lujan.
While homeowners have not yet received a response from the property management, “we hope we get answers soon. We have the right to this information,” said an American Beauty resident of about 20 years.
Lamoureux said: “These issues are common but what you want to avoid is them going into receivership.” In these cases, he recommends homeowners gather and seek help from an HOA attorney who can write a letter on behalf of the residents to the property management company to seek the information they are entitled to.