Mushrooms growing out of the walls: Asbury Park condo residents say leaks remain unfixed


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ASBURY PARK – For over a year, some residents in the Santander condominium building on Deal Lake Drive have been living with a leaky roof, a crumbling fire wall, and such high levels of mold and moisture that mushrooms are growing out of the walls.

“It has easily been 15 months and stuff is just wet,” said J-Michael Roberts, who is currently living in Brooklyn because of the condition of his Santander condominium. “My bedroom wall is wet and I don’t know how that is affecting the steel in a 90-year old building. It is really concerning. Mold concerns aside, what happens when iron or steel is wet for that long? That is the scary part.”

The situation has left him frustrated. “I am treated like I am the bad guy but I still have to pay maintenance every month for a place I can’t use,” Roberts said. “I am still paying a mortgage on a place, every month, that I can’t use. My insurance premium doubled because they refused to do the right thing and we had to fight them for nine months.”

The Mediterranean-style Santander is a high-rise building with 80 studio, one-bedroom, two-bedroom, three-bedroom and a few four-bedroom residences located at 400 Deal Lake Drive in the northeast section of Asbury Park overlooking Deal Lake. Originally constructed in the 1920s as a rental building, it was converted to condominiums in the late 1980s.

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“My apartment is the one with the wet walls with the mushrooms growing out of them,” Roberts said. “Clearly there is a problem here. These walls should not be wet all the time and mushrooms should not be growing out of them,” Roberts said.

The Santander Association board told Roberts they were working on it but didn’t send anyone until Roberts contacted the city.

The Santander Association is the homeowners’ association, comprised of owners of units in the building. The association’s board of trustees are elected by other members of the units to serve for one- and two-year periods.

“I don’t live at the Santander because I can’t, because there is a giant hole in my ceiling. I own a condo unit at the Santander but it is not safe or healthy for me to live there,” Roberts said.

Building management directed the Asbury Park Press to their attorney, who could not be reached for comment.

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‘Start of the whole nightmare’

In October 2022 when the remnants of Hurricane Ian hit the Jersey Shore, Roberts and his family were planning to leave their Santander home and ride out the storm in Brooklyn but that is when he heard “a weird drip somewhere.”

“We didn’t know where it was from, and then right after we had packed everything up and were getting ready to go, we realized there was water dripping from the ceiling onto one of our desks,” Roberts said.

He added “that was the start of the whole nightmare for us.”

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Roberts’ condominium is located on the sixth floor just under the line of exterior gargoyles. His neighbor above, Lisa Miele, has experienced major leaking under the balcony on the ninth floor.

“Water is pouring into our units, above our windows through holes that are in the façade and this has been ongoing for almost three years that I have been living there and recording it. It was apparently happening before I was there,” Miele said.

Roberts was initially told to hire a plumber after he found drip pans that had been installed in his ceiling to catch water and move it away. This confirmed that there was a leak sometime in the past that someone previously had dealt with.

That is when he told the Santander Association, “read your own bylaws. I can’t touch those pans in the ceiling because they are not mine, they are the building’s and if there are issues with the building, I can’t go and fix.”

If Roberts took it upon himself to “fix building infrastructure” he would be responsible for whatever happens going forward. He said, “this is a building problem, not a me problem.”

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“That is when we discovered this whole mess of deficiencies,” Roberts said. “We fought with the building (HOA) for many, many months until finally they relented, (we) had to hire lawyers for them to do the right thing because they just refused even though we identified a deficiency in the building.”

After the repairs were finally made to drain the water, Roberts said “we got to enjoy it for 45 days.”

“It was August, it was done, getting repaired and put back to normal,” he said. “And then another storm came through and one of the pans that was up there failed and just a ton of water was coming in. On Sept. 25 we started seeing drips and then Sept. 29 or something the ceiling caved in again just from all the water.”

Roberts’ condo currently has a big tarp in place on the ceiling that is catching water. That water goes into a hose and drains out via the tub in the bathroom.

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“It is leaking from new places now,” he said. “I got leak sensors in place, so when it is leaking, I know about it. It seems like every time it rains I get some kind of leak now.”

Since Roberts owns the condo, he is not protected by the same kind of rights as if he was renting.

“It doesn’t matter, I can’t use or enjoy my unit,” Roberts said. “From the (HOA) board’s perspective I just have to shut up, sit on my hands and wait until they fix something else.”

Roberts added that city officials inspected his unit and issued a violation to building management to repair the roof, drainage and the walls. Roberts plans to meet with the building’s forensic engineering firm this month.

“No one visited my unit from the building, from the engineering firm, not even their lawyer. Literally no one from the building came in response (to the violations),” Roberts said. “So, I finally check in with the city. … That is when they learned from me that no one has ever visited my unit.”

‘I don’t believe that building is sound’

He is not the only resident who has complained.

Miele has owned two penthouses in the Santander, including the largest unit in the Santander, since March 2021.

“Within about two months, I started to take water on through a window in the master bedroom,” Miele said. “Where we ended up and where we are is really situations that are not livable, much less for what we are paying in HOA fees.”

In October 2022, her ceiling in penthouse 2 started to leak after a bad storm.

“Water started coming through and then mold started developing within hours, which means the water had been sitting up there,” she said.

“There is active mold growing that I just had to go through the process of removing, and re-sheetrocking that unit and trying to make it sound again even though I knew the roof wasn’t fixed,” Miele said. “A few nights ago when the storm hit, I walked around watching water seep down the walls, pour in through the windows and destroy everything I had just done.”

With visible cracks in the lobby floors, residents have written letters to the board questioning the structural integrity of the building.

“I don’t believe that building is sound, and I say a prayer every night for myself and my neighbors that we wake up the next morning in those buildings,” Miele said.

Charles Daye is the metro reporter for Asbury Park and Neptune, with a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. @CharlesDayeAPP Contact him: CDaye@gannettnj.com



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