Delay rebuilding fire-ravaged condos sparks legal battle
By Alexei Rubenstein
04 January 2017

MONTPELIER, Vt. - The early morning fire in building number three at Mountainside condos at Sugarbush three years ago is considered one of the largest fires of its kind in the state.

"So we just said evacuate and started pounding on doors and got everybody out of the building," condo owner Marie Freeman said in February 2014.

The cause—a fireplace malfunction. While there were no injuries and buildings number one and two were untouched, 36 units were destroyed.

Now, three years later, an empty lot remains where the condos stood and there are still no immediate plans to rebuild.

For Don and Mary Newey, a Connecticut couple who lost their condo in the fire, the long wait and lost money are exasperating.

You're still paying fees, you're still paying your mortgage

"You're still paying fees, you're still paying your mortgage, you don't have any rental income and you don't have the ties to here. You have to get a motel every time you come up, so it's definitely not the same," Mary Newey said.

Wednesday, the Neweys and other displaced condo owners took their own condo association to court over the delays in rebuilding. The owners claim the association is obligated to rebuild but mismanaged and intentionally delayed the effort.

board didn't procure enough insurance... all the members of the association have to chip in for that shortfall

"The board didn't procure enough insurance to cover all of the expense of reconstruction. All the members of the association have to chip in for that shortfall," said Chris Roy, the lawyer for the condo owners. "Also, that means building one and two have unit owners who are going to have to chip in for the cost of reconstructing building three, so that's the tension that's going on here."

all must pay the same amount, something many are reluctant to do

That means association members, whether they get to live in a new replacement condo or the old buildings built back in the 1970s, must pay the same amount, something many are reluctant to do. Association members only narrowly approved a special assessment fee this fall.

Lawyers for the condo association argue they have had to deal with Act 250 permit delays and other complications, but are working as fast as they can.

"The board has an obligation to rebuild the building. That's what the bylaws require. But it also has an obligation to the entire membership not to sock them with such a huge bill that it's unaffordable for folks," said Bob DiPalma, the lawyer for the condo owners association.

Many of the ski condos around the region, like Mountainside, were built in the '70s and early '80s, raising the larger issue of adequate insurance coverage and fire safety precautions.

Sugarbush Resort is not affiliated with the condo association.

The aggrieved condo owners are hoping the judge will order a court-appointed master to speed up construction. But even if that works, there would still be an additional trial to recover the condo fees, lost income and other expenses they've incurred since the fire.

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