HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — Some people who own condos in an Horry County oceanfront condo building said the property managers ignored structural damage for years, resulting in residents being evacuated Oct. 7.
The federal lawsuit compares the situation to a condo collapse in Florida — which left 98 people dead.
The lawsuit claims the board of the Renaissance Tower “and its management company knew for years about steadily worsening damage to structural steel components supporting the building yet failed to undertake further inspections or any repairs and allowed the damage to worsen.”
The lawsuit says the building, which is located off of South Kings Highway just north of Ocean Lakes Family Campground, is “now not structurally sound” due to corroding steel.
The suit says the board had the steel components evaluated in June 2021 after the Florida condo collapse for the first time since 2018, according to the lawsuit. In the lawsuit, the condo owners say the engineer found “substantially more” corrosion than in 2018 and advised the board that it couldn’t continue to delay making repairs.
On Oct. 7, construction contractors who were removing materials from underneath the building found the steel “so corroded and weakened” that an engineer was called evaluate.
“The engineer who inspected the steel on October 7, 2022, found the Renaissance Tower building is ‘not structurally sound,’ that some of the steel ‘column flanges are completely disintegrated on the outer side of the columns,’ and that the damaged structural components observed present ‘a very dangerous condition,'” according to the lawsuit.
The engineer ordered the building to be evacuated and no one has been allowed to return, according to the lawsuit.
News13 received viewer and resident complaints at the time of the evacuation, but no one we contacted provided information. We reached out to Horry County Fire Rescue the day of the evacuation and were directed to county spokesperson Thomas Bell.
News13 reached out to Bell that Friday night via email and again by phone the following Monday morning.
In a phone call, Bell said the county was aware of a situation involving the property but couldn’t provide any other information. He directed News13 to the property for more information. After a couple days of trying to contact the property management, including disconnected phone calls and no calls back, News13 called Horry County Code Enforcement Oct. 12, which directed us back to the county spokesperson.
We again reached out to the building management company and asked to speak to someone who sent a letter about the property. We were told that person wasn’t available and that there was “no comment.” The person hung up the phone.
The lawsuit, which was filed last week, shows photos of the condition of some of the steel.
The lawsuit claims that some owners who live in the condo building had to purchase tents to live in at a nearby campground. Other owners who had their units listed for sale can no longer sell their property or had the buyer back out.
“Despite being left homeless, stuck paying for temporary housing, or deprived of income from a tenant, owners now face a more than $2 million assessment for repairs to the structural steel components plus an unknown additional assessment amount for temporary shoring necessary to make the building safe for occupants and for the expanded scope of repairs needed to address the extremely damaged condition of the steel,” the lawsuit reads.
The lawsuit adds the board had less than $1.3 million in reserves “which is a grossly unreasonable amount of reserves for a 21-story, 322 unit condominium building constructed nearly forty years ago and located on the beachfront in coastal South Carolina.”
The lawsuit states the structural damage was known five years ago. In 2018, a professional engineer prepared repair drawings for the damaged steel and got bids from contractors for the repairs. The engineer told the board in September that “this condition under the building is problematic and getting more problematic every month of every year and I don’t think we can sit here and just keep pushing it down the road,” according to the lawsuit.
In January 2020, the board presented a “structural assessment” that stated “‘we have some steel underneath the building that has deteriorated from a previous storm surge’ and that repair work on the steel needed to be performed ‘in the near future,'” according to the lawsuit.
In August 2020, the board sent a letter to members that said “horizontal structural steel that supports the first floor and the minor structural steel elements that transfer the first-floor loads into the foundation system are in need of repair” and the “need for these repairs is a direct result of the structural steel being in a corrosive coastal marine environment and water infiltration from several different sources,” according to the lawsuit.
The condo owners claim that the board knew of the needed structural repairs, and the board decided to delay repairs. Instead, the board had workers “replace cooler components and a cooling tower which are not safety or structural integrity issues and were not worsening such that a delay in their replacement would result in increased repair costs.”
The board is accused of “disregarding the advice of professionals for more than five years,” before finally deciding to address the repairs in 2021, according to the lawsuit.
On Sept. 15, the board notified the members that they were being assessed a total of $2,075,600 for the repairs. The assessment was “imposed on the members based on the percentage of ownership represented by the type of unit owned by each member,” according to the lawsuit.
The amounts ranged from $3,709.10 to $9,273.78, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit calls the need to find alternative housing due to being evacuated from the building a “great expense and inconvenience.”
Condo owners claim they were given a one-hour period to evacuate the building and were unable to get any of their personal items other than what could be packed and carried out in that time. Owners who rent their units had to find alternative housing for their tenants or lose out on rent money, according to the lawsuit.
Other owners claim to have lost rental income.
The group is demanding a jury trial and seeking an unspecified amount of damages.