Friday, May 24, 2002
Owners at The Lofts stuck
Erpenbeck condos have liens on units
By Jennifer Edwards, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Cincinnati Enquirer
WEST CHESTER TWP. Some are young and excited first-time owners. Others are trusting senior citizens who poured their savings into what they thought would be trouble-free condominiums.
But now the residents at The Lofts at Wetherington all have one unhappy common bond: Theirs are among the thousands of lives rocked by the Erpenbeck Co fiasco.
At The Lofts, just off Interstate 75 in this Butler County suburb, many owners of two-bedroom condos that range from $80,000 to $105,000 now realize they have two, three or even four liens on their units.
Lumber sits at The Lofts at Wetherington as Barry Tiffany (left), West Chester Township code enforcement officer, and Bill Petty, trustee for The Lofts, talk Wednesday.|
(Michael Snyder photo)
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Some paid for garages they now discover they do not own and might have to pay about $7,000 to repurchase.
I am disgusted, said Shirley Woodington, 68, who has four liens on her two-bedroom condo. I am retired and I live on a fixed income. All of these expenses are going to make it hard on me. ... I'd like to see him in jail. He has been living large on our money. We feel like we have been taken.
A. William Bill Erpenbeck, a Northern Kentucky home builder, is under federal investigation for an alleged bank fraud scheme in which millions of dollars in home-purchase checks were diverted into his company's account at Peoples Bank. Dozens of homeowners were left without clear titles to their homes, and the fiasco has triggered scores of lawsuits by banks and contractors who are owed millions by the home builders.
Many condo owners at The Lofts still are trying to sort through the mess, figuring out which units have liens and which don't. The complex is mostly complete, but two buildings remain unfinished. Of the 72 units standing, all of the vacant ones 25 have liens, according to The Lofts Homeowners Association Trustee Bill Petty, who lives in a condo there.
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Many of the units that are occupied also don't have certificates of occupancy.
Meanwhile, the base of a parking garage sits unfinished near a pile of rat-invested lumber that has sat untouched for about a year, rendering it unusable.
At a Lofts homeowners association meeting Wednesday night, 50 residents packed their clubhouse to elect two new trustees to replace the ones appointed by Mr. Erpenbeck, officially taking control of the board.
Their first move most likely will be to hire Woodlawn attorney Rex Wolfgang, who also represents homeowner associations in 10 other Erpenbeck communities. Mr. Petty is advocating all unit owners there to chip in $280 to instruct Mr. Wolfgang to sue Mr. Erpenbeck on their behalf.
Mr. Wolfgang also represents a condominium complex next door, The Fairways at Wetherington. That subdivision was further along in construction than the Lofts; all its buildings are complete.
Fairways homeowners took control of their homeowners association before the scandal erupted. They filed suit against Mr. Erpenbeck for improper construction and because he seemed to walk away with all the reserve funds from the association when he turned it over, about $36,000 in May 2000, Mr. Wolfgang said.
That suit is scheduled for a September jury trial at Butler County Common Pleas Court.
Another suit against The Erpenbeck Development Co. was filed Tuesday in Butler County Common Pleas Court, alleging breach of contract. The Wetherington Associates Limited Partnership alleges that the Erpenbeck Co. owes $35,000 in administrative fees. The money was to have been paid in exchange for Wetherington Golf and Country Club displaying Mr. Erpenbeck's marketing literature and promoting condominium sales.
But as Lofts residents try to figure out if they have liens on their property, the Butler County Recorder's Office has been flooded with calls for help. All Erpenbeck residents are being urged to either hire real estate attorneys or title examiners, said Butler County Recorder Danny Crank.
I feel sorry for these people, I really do. We've got computers here and we'll show them how to do the research, but we're not allowed to tell people what is on their deeds, Mr. Crank said Thursday. The recorder's office can't do title exams. We're not allowed to give legal information.
The recorder's office receives 300 to 500 documents a day; scrutinizing each one for accuracy is not his employees' job, Mr. Crank said.
We trust that whoever sent that document to us sent it correctly, he said. We really have no way of knowing if it isn't. If a bank sends me a mortgage on someone, I'm going to assume you really are the person on that mortgage. ... As someone who has spent 25 years in the real estate business before I took this job, I have never seen anything like this before.
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