Stuck in limbo after condo fire

Somerton condo owners blame association for two-year delay in restoring their fire-damaged property.

Time for action: Part of a building at Carousel Station Condominiums in Somerton has been empty for more than two years. Residents want answers. JACK TOMCZUK / TIMES PHOTO

For nearly 30 years, paintings and tropical plants adorned Lidia Shan’s Somerton condominium.

Then, on Oct. 30, 2017, a fire broke out in her building at Carousel Station, 301 Byberry Road, a sprawling condominium development next to Forest Hills train station.

She didn’t know the blaze would be only the start of her problems. 

More than two years later, Shan and her husband, Gerald Fornwald, are still waiting to get back into their home. They’ve been spending part of their retirement in various apartments and hotel rooms, most recently at the Candlewood Suites in Bensalem.

Last week, their insurance ran out. Now, they’re paying $154 a day for the room and $1,200 per month to store their belongings from the two-bedroom condo.

A total of six condominium owners have been in limbo since the fire. 

Shan, Fornwald and Victoria Borodyansky, who purchased her unit in 1997, put the blame on the Carousel Station Condominium Association, which took control of their units shortly after the blaze.

They say the association received insurance money but mishandled the restoration project. Instead, CSCA hired and fired multiple contractors, shuffled through opaque property management companies and kept affected condo owners in the dark, Shan and Borodyansky told the Northeast Times.

“They took my property,” Shan said. “They never returned it.”

A few of the units were severely damaged in the fire, but the condos belonging to Borodyansky and Shan received only smoke and water damage. 

Attorney Dan Devlin, who has represented CSCA since March, acknowledged the lengthy delay but said the association has been doing everything it can to reopen the building. 

“We’re on track right now for getting it done by the end of this year,” he said in an interview. “We’ve been giving regular updates to the unit owners that have been affected throughout this process.”

Shan, Fornwald and Borodyansky are skeptical. They provided a copy of an email from Carousel Station’s property manager in March that said the work would be completed by June.

Aside from replacing the roof this past spring, very little work has been done since the fire, they said.

Devlin said problems with contractors, work permits and code changes have caused delays in the project. His firm, van der Veen, O’Neill, Hartshorn and Levin, is also investigating some of the contractors and whether they should be held liable. 

Borodyansky and Shan said CSCA has never handled the project in a professional manner, and they question whether the association misused the insurance money.

“We have no indication of that,” Devlin said.

Devlin said Borodyansy, Shan and Fornwald have been complaining and interfering with the ability of the association, contractors and others to restore the building. He characterized their behavior as “bizarre.”

The unit owners say they have been asking legitimate questions. In the past, Shan said she has called the Department of Licenses and Inspections to report work being done without a permit.

Shan and Fornwald are now paying their living expenses out-of-pocket, though Devlin said they can request reimbursement through his firm’s office. The couple believe they shouldn’t have to go through that process, and that CSCA has an obligation to cover their costs.

They have been told to hire an attorney, but they worry Pennsylvania’s condominium laws are not on their side. Fornwald said the regulations are weak, and paying a lawyer would be like “throwing money in a river.”

The fire and its aftermath has had a financial, emotional and physical toll, the condo owners said.

After a visit to Carousel Station last year, Lidia developed Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder, which she attributes to stress caused by the situation. 

In March 2018, Borodyansky stopped by her condo and noticed broken windows. She peeked in and saw that vandals had smashed sinks, mirrors and other things in the unit.

“It was terrible,” she said. “It was so heartbreaking.”

Borodyansky lived at Carousel Station for years before moving to Southampton. She had been using the condo as a rental property. Now, she’s stuck with two mortgages — one of which she’s getting nothing for.

“I have something that I’m paying for. I’m being forced to pay for it,” Borodyansky said. “I have no choice. Technically, I don’t have anything.” ••