EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — A damaging fire forced more than two dozen families of the Heather Croft Condominium complex from their homes last April. While they are still out of their homes a year later, the complex manager said they may be able to return as soon as late June.
Donald Stauffer, Egg Harbor Township’s fire official, said investigators deemed the April 3, 2013, fire accidental, saying it was caused by careless smoking on a second-floor balcony.
On Wednesday, Donna Simpson, the community manager, said, “You can see how much work has progressed.” The new roof was installed, she said, and crews were working on windows and doors.
“We’ve been working diligently with the insurance company to get most of the amount, to get everyone everything that they should have, and get back as soon as they can,” Simpson said.
She acknowledged delays but blamed them on a combination of wet weather in June, a snowy winter and extended negotiations over insurance coverage. She would not disclose the exact final insurance settlement but confirmed it was in excess of $1 million.
Most recently, Simpson said the contractor, Thomas Andrews & Son LLC, has begun meeting with the owners of the condominium units so they can pick out their carpets as well as choose any upgrades to their units.
“There will be a one-on-one,” she said. The owners, she said, “have been very patient.”
For some owners, however, the year has been very difficult.
“It’s been a nightmare,” said Gregory Kilar, one of the owners, who rented out his unit to tenants. “All of a sudden, everything disappears beneath you.”
At the first condominium association meeting several weeks after the fire, he said owners were told they would be back in their units in eight to 10 months. He said owners were told everything would be taken care of, and they were dissuaded from hiring attorneys.
Then, he said, nothing happened until late summer. The owners were not kept current with the rebuilding but were told they were still obligated to pay association fees.
He received a $5,000 settlement from his separate insurance policy but had relied on the unit’s rental income. His bank deferred mortgage payments for six months, but now he said he is in pre-foreclosure.
Theresa Tropea, another owner, had similar problems. After paying taxes, condo fees and a mortgage for a year, she complained she was not kept up to date on the development.
“We were promised new units, and I am still in the same boat I was a year ago ... paying bills on nothing,” she wrote in an email. “My next step is litigation.”
A third owner took a different view. It has been a trying year, Bob Huston said, and the condominium association is doing the best it can.
Huston, 67, his wife, Mary Jane, , 67, and his mother, Rita, , 94, spent the past year in a rented unit about 2½ miles away in Northfield.
The fire was traumatic, Rita Huston said. She fell and broke a wrist, then had difficulties exiting the complex.
Since then, the family has waited for reconstruction. They had condominium insurance with State Farm, which paid a year’s rent.
Through persistence, Bob Huston learned about the reconstruction process. Most recently, he met with contractor Thomas Andrews to select upgrades for his windows, sliding doors and front doors.
“The best I can say is he (Andrews) believes, if not affected by weather, or communications from the township, or the insurance company, he is anticipating July 1” to reopen, Bob Huston said. “We’re making the best of a situation, and we’re looking to get back to where we’ve lived for almost 20 years.”
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