No condo insurance forces family from home after fire
Updated 5:18 pm, Thursday, December 29, 2011
There are still holes punched in the kitchen walls by firefighters' tools, and scorch marks on the ceiling. Soot streaks the walls and a glance up the stairs to the condominium unit's second-floor bedrooms is like looking into a black hole.
A fire is any homeowner's nightmare, but for Rajnish and Vandana Jain, the fire that raced through their Brentwood Avenue condominium last May has turned into a nightmare that just won't end, thanks to what police say is a lapsed insurance policy.
But it wasn't the Jains' insurance policy that lapsed. Instead, it was the master policy for the entire four-unit complex, an insurance policy the Jains had been led to believe was covered by their common charges.
Burr Street resident Kerry O'Sullivan, 52, manager of the condo association, and owner of two of the four units, turned himself in to police Monday on a warrant for second-degree larceny after he collected the common charges from the Jains and Nathan Valentino, owner of the other Brentwood unit, but failed to maintain an insurance policy for the development, police said.
The phone number listed for O'Sullivan is no longer in service and police said he has been working and living, for the most part, in Canada.
After the May 10 fire, the Jains and their insurance company tried to contact O'Sullivan, who also is the principal in Dill Road Associates, LLC, which built the units.
"He never contacted us after the fire," Rajnish Jain said Wednesday. "Here we are, completely devastated, completely traumatized." The family's insurance covered only the contents of the unit, as is standard.
State statues and the association's own declaration on file in the Town Clerk's office require the association to maintain an insurance policy for the structure itself.
"We kept calling," he said. "I went to his house. My insurance company called him; the fire investigator called him. I went and met his wife; even she didn't get him to call me. I gave his wife legal notice."
The blaze left the condo unit uninhabitable and the Jains have been renting an apartment in town, paying not only rent, but their mortgage on the condo. They have no money to make repairs, and have little hope that they'll be able to recoup any from O'Sullivan. The cause of the fire was never determined.
Since buying the condo in 2009 they said there have been no meetings of any condo association or any monthly billing for common charges, a claim backed up by Valentino. The first bill they got covered the common charges for an entire year.
"I think I was here about 18 months before I got my first bill," Valentino said. "It was over $2,000. I think I only got three bills from in total and the last one was in 2010."
The unit owners said O'Sullivan would send out common-charges bills for lump sums, the invoices detailing charges for different maintenance and insurance costs. And while it may have been difficult for them to get hold of O'Sullivan, all three said if the common charge bill wasn't paid within a few days of receipt, O'Sullivan would become aggressive about collecting payment.
Valentino even took O'Sullivan to small claims court this year when O'Sullivan failed make repairs under a new construction warranty. "He didn't show up," Valentino said for the court action, and he was awarded damages of $3,773.12. In an effort to collect that money Valentino has filed a judgment lien against O'Sullivan.
"It's a very unfortunate situation," Valentino said. "I haven't been impacted that badly, but Raj and his family have been devastated."
He said he was in total shock when he learned there was no master insurance policy for the small condo complex.
"I don't understand how he could just not do these things and that it's not going to come back to him," Valentino said.
The Jain's 5-year-old daughter Mihika made her first return visit to the unit recently; her parents said she still remembers that all her toys were destroyed and the family's other possessions damaged.
"He's living in a palace," Rajnish Jain said, "and I'm sleeping on the floor."
Police Detective Jason Takacs took on the investigation when the Jains and Valentino discovered that money they'd paid for insurance had apparently not been used by O'Sullivan to pay for the master policy.
"At no time did he notify the residents that there was no insurance," Takacs said. "He basically left them in the dark." There was evidence, however, that O'Sullivan had been contacted by the insurance company several times regarding his failure to pay the premium and the lapsed policy. "He knew the insurance policy had expired," Takacs said.
The fact that Valentino is over 60 years old allowed Takacs to charge O'Sullivan with a felony.
He said that over the course of his investigation he learned that the misappropriation of condominium common charges is not that uncommon. "This kind of thing happens all the time," Takacs said. "When you live in an association, you tend to assume things are being done the way they should."
Takacs said condo owners should take it upon themselves to periodically check on their association and its business transactions. "People really need to make sure they do their homework," he said.
There are several court cases filed against O'Sullivan by area banks seeking foreclosures on his the two Brentwood condo units he still owns, and a motion by the Jains and Valentino seeking an injunction to allow them to take over management of the association in an effort to get a master insurance policy restored.
"He has never gotten back to them to this day, from the time of the fire. He has never once contacted them," Takacs said.
O'Sullivan was released on a promise to appear Jan. 3 in Bridgeport Superior Court to face the charge of second-degree larceny against a person 60 years old. Rajnish Jain said he plans to be there.