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It’s been almost 18 months since a fire damaged 12 condominiums at Coachlight Square in Montrose, and frustrated residents still have no reliable timeline as to when they will be able to move back.
“I am very depressed. You cannot imagine driving up to your own home, having it fenced off, and not being allowed to go in for 18 months now,” said Judy Coppola, owner of Unit 269. “There are no proper words to express our disappointment. We just want to go home.”
Equally fed up is Cortlandt Supervisor Dr. Richard Becker, who earlier this month contacted the New York State Attorney General’s Office, urging them to launch an investigation into the contractor that was hired by The Board of Managers of the Coachlight Square Associations to rebuild eight of the units and renovate four others that suffered water and smoke damage in the Aug. 6, 2021 blaze—as well as the Board of Managers themselves.
“There is a need for a forensic review on this project, including The HOA and Belfor. I believe that something is amiss,” Becker remarked in a recent correspondence. “Most of these homeowners are nearly bankrupt. They need to get back in their homes. I will continue to push the authorities, at all levels of government, to ensure that this project is completed and that no other condo owners face such a nightmare.”
The Board of Managers of the Coachlight Square Associations hired Belfor Property Restoration 12 days after the fire and issued a check of $2,282,752.84—the total cost of the work—in November. That decision continues to come under severe criticism from residents and Becker, who feels Belfor, who once promised to have homeowners back in their homes by late November, is dragging its feet since it has already been paid in full.
Becker also alleged the quality of Belfor’s work is “terrible.”
“There are clearly reasons, which are known only to Belfor, for their failure to complete the project as promised,” Becker stated. “The attitude of Belfor towards these unfortunate homeowners is reprehensible and failure to get them into their homes in a timely fashion is inexcusable.”
In an email to Becker and, in a separate email to Examiner Media, Stephen DeLillo of Belfor blamed a lot of the construction delays on ConEd, which is needed to replace gas piping in the units and restore electricity.
“We have met every timeline promised and the final aspects of the job cannot be completed until the utilities are restored by ConEd,” DeLillo stated. “Since the project is ongoing, I cannot comment on job specifics, but I can assure you that all the finishes and workmanship are top quality and selected by each unit owner specifically. Belfor has responded to all the unit owners when they reach out, send out status reports on a regular basis, and attended the meeting with all the unit owners at the town with Dr. Becker. We have been fully forthcoming with Dr. Becker and the unit owners in the building.”
Becker said Belfor failed to show up at the last meeting he held with the unit owners, and he pointed the blame fully on Belfor for not contacting ConEd immediately after the eight units were demolished.
“You are blaming everyone but yourselves,” Becker wrote to DeLillo. “I bet you would be in your home if this was your property. I am appalled by the poor quality of the materials selected; all are of the lowest, cheapest you could find. And the workmanship is beneath anything acceptable.”
Becker even suggested Belfor agree to let the town hire contractors to complete the work at Belfor’s expense.
“It would be in your best interest to make sure our homeowners are safely and expeditiously in their homes,” Becker vowed. “To be certain, I will ensure that in the end, these homeowners get the justice they deserve.”
In the fall, The Board of Managers at Coachlight explained their reasons for hiring Belfor.
“After considering several companies, the Board agreed that Belfor Property Restoration was the best qualified to accommodate CLS’s needs,” Marilou Thompson, president of the Board of Managers, stated in an email. “The Board and Belfor Property Restoration have worked tirelessly to keep the restoration project moving forward.”
Thompson has also failed to attend any recent meetings with Becker and the unit owners.
“I cannot comprehend the failure of the HOA leadership in this entire process,” Becker stated. “The failure of the HOA leadership to engage appropriate outside management of this project, given their lack of experience in this area, is inexcusable. Also, the fact that they immediately turned over payment from the insurance coverage to Belfor, eliminating any leverage to ensure completion of construction, remains beyond understanding. Their lack of support of the displaced homeowners is more than discouraging; it is a failure to complete their responsibilities and is therefore reprehensible.”
Meanwhile, displaced homeowners, such as Coppola, have been struggling financially, having to pay a mortgage, property taxes, common charges and rent, along with costs associated with the damage from the fire.
“We are coping literally day by day,” said Coppola, who has been residing in a one-bedroom apartment in Croton. “The monetary cost of these delays is going to literally have a direct affect on our retirement years. Folks think insurance ‘covers’ everything. They do not! It is shameful and disgraceful that we have been kept out of homes for so long due to clear negligence and dereliction.”
Publisher’s Note: Examiner Media Editor-in-Chief Martin Wilbur owns one of the 12 units that were damaged and has been displaced since the fire.