Templeton of Alexandria, a condominium, and Summit Apartments, situated next door in the city's West End near I-95 were built as twin buildings, mirrors of each other.
But the Summit building is worth $3.4 million, and the Templeton's market value is $6.4 million, according to Alexandria's real estate assessment office. That means Templeton's condominium owners collectively pay $52,612 a year more in real estate taxes than the owner of the Summit.
At Edsall Terrace, a 118-unit condominium in Alexandria, the owners collectively pay $4,000 a year for private trash removal. But they also pay real estate taxes, and part of their tax dollar goes for city trash service. Condominium dwellers are entitled to service from the city, but Alexandria disposes of trash only once a week and most condominiums require more frequent service. Most condominiums also are unable to meet city requirements for bagging trash.
It is examples like these that have led a handful of Alexandria condominium dwellers to try to organize a special citywide condomium association. Such an association is needed, one organizer said, so owners can "speak with one voice" while lobbying before the city government, and so that condominium owners at different complexes can exchange ideas and solutions to common problems.
"It's like the city is putting in a smattering of rental apartment regulations and a smattering of single family home ideas and saying, 'presto, condominiums,'" said Ann N. Devers, who lives in a three-bedroom condominium and is one of those trying to start the lobbying association.
James Dowden, executive vice president of a national nonprofit organization that helps educate and train homeowners, developers and lawyers about condominium management, said part of the problem is that large-scale condominiums development dates only from 1964.
"Everybody's feeling their way," Dowden said. "Rules for single-family homes go back to English common law, the 12th century. Along comes condominiums (in 1964). It looks like a rental building, and smells like a rental building. but in terms of dealing with these people, it's trauma for the local governments."
Alexandria City Manager Douglas harman said he is "open" to condominium complaints. Condominiums are a "recent phenomenon," he noted, and said that as they become more organized it will be easier for the city to respond to widespread problems.
As for the difference in real estate assessments between Templeton, 250 S. Reynolds, and Summit, next door, Alexandria real estate assessments director David Chitlik said that in a building of condominiums, each unit is assessed as a separate entity. Different units have different values; a two bedroom unit is worth more than a one-bedroom, and apartments on different floors are assessed at different values.
But in a rental building, the assessment is based on the income the building could produce as a whole, he said.
Chitlik gave as an analogy two identical warehouses, both of which sell oranges, but one sells them retail and the other wholesale. The retail warehouse would be assessed higher because the business produces more money, he said.
Chitlik added that people would rather own an apartment than rent one. "We find people will pay 15 to 25 per cent more for identical apartments just for the right of ownership," he said.
Bette Fricke, who lives at Edsall Terrace, 6210-90 Edsall Rd. is one of those trying to organize the lobbying association. She complained that condominium dwellers are being cheated in the areas of trash pick-up service, tax assessments, and swimming pool regulations.
Condominium swimming pools follow some of the city regulations set up for apartment buildings, he said. One of them prohibits beverages at poolside.
"The feeling by condominium owners is that we own it. So why can't we bring drinks to the pool?" Fricke said. She and others have suggested that condominium owners should get a tax rebate from the city to cover what they pay for the trash service they can't use, because they need more frequent pick-ups.