City orders extensive facade restoration at Madison House condo tower

Residents welcome action as 'long overdue'
A 19-story apartment tower, beige in color, checkered with windows and balconies, sits behind a line of trees and in front of a partly cloudy sky.
Posted at 5:46 PM, Aug 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-05 18:04:19-04

CINCINNATI — Cincinnati’s building department has ordered the Madison House condominium tower to repair all leaks in the 19-story building’s windows, balconies and façade, threatening to impose quarterly fees if violations are not corrected 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 was planning “a large façade 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 the necessary repairs.

“Restore exterior walls, roofs, floors and foundations to watertight and weather tight condition,” said the city document. “Repair windows, balcony doors, flashing, cracks in the exterior walls or roof leaks that are the source of water infiltration. All sources must be identified and corrected as well as the damage arising from the water infiltration. This action must be applied across the entire hi-rise and parking garage.”

The city’s orders drew cautious praise from Madison House resident Edgar Ragouzis, who first sounded 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 penetration led to a building collapse that killed 98 people in June 24, 2021.

“Acknowledging the problem is the beginning of the fix,” said Ragouzis, who expects repairs to cost several million dollars and spark new legal battles over who must pay for the leaks. He fears Madison House will “try everything they can to stall” the city’s ordered repairs, but he’s grateful the city took action.

“I think the city just got educated, that’s all,” Ragouzis said. “They’ve become convinced that all of this is indicative of a big problem. How big, we don’t know. But just to fix what was ordered 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 the Madison House board of managers 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 façade restoration.

“The board doesn’t have the façade repair bids yet,” the board responded Nov. 19. “Façade repair specifications are being drafted and will be used to acquire project bids.”

Shaw said the board has taken no action on façade restoration since then.

“Finally, the city is stepping in to force repairs that are long overdue, and that our board is either incapable or incompetent to solve,” 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 countersuit alleging the building’s managers failed to “allocate reserve funding for the execution of regular inspections, repairs and maintenance of all exposed structural concrete.”

The building initially won court orders for the sheriff sale of two 11th floor condo units owned by Ragouzis, but those judgments were later vacated when Ragouzis paid past-due 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 fall? I don’t know. I honestly don’t,” Ragouzis said. “But I think we need to be very careful how we progress from here with a remediation and who we use. And I think previous people, including the people on the board, management company, this outside engineer, Mr. Patterson, these people have to be removed from the process because they’ve taken us to where we are.”

Michael Patterson, a principal at the structural engineering firm SRES Inc., told city inspectors last August that no safety problems were spotted in a detailed review of the building’s façade three years ago.

“In late 2019 an extensive visual review was made of the building façade and of the interior conditions of 80 of the 82 fully enclosed unit balconies at the building,” Patterson wrote. “The final report from our field review was issued on 5/8/20. As stated in the report, we observed no conditions of an immediate safety concern.”

The city accepted Patterson’s report on Aug. 27, 2021 by designating the Madison House facade as “safe with an ordinary repair and maintenance program.”

Unsatisfied with that outcome, Ragouzis and others invited city inspectors to examine water damage in their units, caused by windows and enclosed balconies that allowed water to penetrate into the façade and units below.

“I am 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 gotten it right.”

Helmick said she was initially skeptical about Ragouzis’ complaints, but eventually joined forces with him to get condo owners to invite inspectors to their units.

“We showed them some of the repairs that were made that are not holding up,” Helmick said. “We showed them what repairs have not been made. And we showed them the fear that many of us have regarding the structure and the safety of this building.”

Helmick is hoping the city’s new orders will lead to a comprehensive review of the building’s structural needs and a sharing of costs among homeowners, building managers and insurers.

The city order doesn’t specify who is responsible for the cost, but District Inspector Robert Wagner suggested the city could help with financing.

“There are several assistance programs available for 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.”