Saturday, April 27, 2002

Erpenbeck leaves trail of abandonment

Company silent about status of building projects

By James McNair,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        At The Fairways at Wetherington condominium project in West Chester, concrete sidewalks and driveways are chipping away in chunks.

        At Steeplechase in Union, home construction has stopped and the shaggy grass along Grand National Boulevard awaits a long-overdue cut.

[photo] Unfinished condos at an Erpenbeck development sit open to the weather.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
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        At the Chestnut Park condo job in Miami Heights, a muddy landscape and a giant container of construction waste serve as a backdrop for empty and half-finished buildings.

        Through the eyes of homeowners and buyers across the region, this is the state of the Erpenbeck Co. From Union in the south to West Chester in the north, Erpenbeck projects have been abandoned to the elements.

        Other than to deny responsibility in several lawsuits, the company is silent on the status of its incomplete projects and warranty claims. Jeff Erpenbeck, who replaced his brother A. William “Bill” Erpenbeck as company president last month, did not return a phone call Friday.

        Only the Edgewood company knows the full impact of its financial collapse, something that the FBI is investigating. FBI officials had no comment Friday. No charges have been filed.

Bill Erpenbeck
Bill Erpenbeck
        The company's inability to pay its subcontractors and suppliers has roiled the lives of people who thought they had bought their dream homes from Greater Cincinnati's fourth-biggest home builder.

        “Dealing with all this stuff with the Erpenbeck Co. has aggravated everyone,” said Sheryl Maynard, who bought a $225,000 home in Steeplechase with her husband, John, in March 2001. “They always have an excuse for everything.”

        The grass is as tall as weeds from one end of Steeplechase to the other, and a sign at the clubhouse pool warns of an undisclosed danger. The hot tub is closed more often than not, Mrs. Maynard said. Houses in various stages of construction await the return of carpenters, plumbers and landscapers.

        A similar scene greets visitors to The Lofts of Wetherington in West Chester. It is mostly complete after two years of work, but subcontractors vacated the site late last year, leaving behind a large amount of lumber in the snow and rain, homeowner Thomas McGill said.

        “They've been out there in the weather for six months,” he said.

        Owners paid about $100,000 for the condos in this Butler County enclave. Last week, they received another surprise — tax bills from Butler County for roads, water and sewer.

[photo] Construction material, largely exposed to the elements, sits at the site of The Lofts of Wetherington in West Chester, an Erpenbeck condominium.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
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        “The residents are not happy that Erpenbeck didn't pay for those improvements,” Mr. McGill said. He estimated the bills at about $100 a month.

        Nearby, another Erpenbeck project — The Fairways at Wetherington — is literally falling apart, owners say.

        In the last two years, homeowners have complained of roof defects, flawed downspouts, a missing entrance gate and deteriorating concrete sidewalks, driveways, curbs and porches. Erpenbeck didn't do the repairs, so the homeowners association filed suit. It is asking for $2 million in damages, half of it punitive.

        Charles and Mary Hoskins of Springboro likewise filed suit. The couple says their roof, doors, heating and cooling system, floors and interior walls are badly flawed. The house, not even 3 years old, is “generally faulty,” their lawsuit states.

        “They worked with the builder ... but there were some major issues that Erpenbeck simply did not address,” said the Hoskins' lawyer, Thomas Kendo of Dayton, Ohio.

        Richard and Jamie McCarthy put down $5,400 last summer for an Erpenbeck home in the Savannah Lakes subdivision in Florence. They chose a lot, floor plan and decor and were ready to enroll their young son in school. But the four-bedroom house that was promised for December occupancy still isn't ready, Mr. McCarthy said.

        In mid-construction, subcontractors walked off the job, leaving the floor and frame exposed to the elements, he said. An inspector told him the warped wood floor base would have to be replaced. Mr. McCarthy said Erpenbeck's proposed remedy was to screw down the warped portions of the floor, a response he considered preposterous.

        The McCarthys want to cancel their contract.

        “I want resolution to it now so my family can move on,” he said.

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