When Pamela Reeves criticizes life at the 51-unit Chancellor condominium, she speaks for every resident there--herself.
Since last summer, Reeves has been the lone occupant of the luxury condominium complex of town houses and high-rise buildings on Washington Circle NW, which went into foreclosure in December.
She pays $243 a month in condominium fees to a nonexistent condo owners' association and tries to get the bank that foreclosed on the complex to get the dead pigeons and derelicts off her doorstep.
She finally got a better security system in her home, but has had a bicycle stolen and gasoline syphoned from her car in what was supposed to be a secure parking lot. Visitors to her $145,000 town house have to negotiate around dirt and building materials where construction has resumed next door and then must guess which place is hers since no house numbers have been put up.
"I should just be happy that I have a doorbell," Reeves says dryly. "Until a few weeks ago, it was just two live wires."
Reeves said that when she first moved in last July, she expected to have neighbors some time soon. Units were being sold, and construction was supposed to be completed in September. But the development was having financial problems, and went into foreclosure in December. At that point, only Reeves and one other person, Evelyn Y. Davis, had settled, and other contracts were canceled with the foreclosure, Reeves said.
Defaults by developers, builders and homeowners have been rising here and elsewhere in the country because of the depressed housing market and unemployment, but lenders invariably say they do all they can to avoid foreclosing because they do not have the resources or expertise to sell or manage real estate properly. After more than five months at an unfinished project that has gone into foreclosure, Reeves would agree.
Attempts to get comment on Reeves' situation from the bank, First National Bank of Maryland, were unsuccessful.
Her eerie urban exile was unpleasant but not critical until recently. Now that has changed, and Reeves has taken First National to court demanding that it buy her out of her contract.
Reeves, a management consultant, says she has been offered a promotion in her firm that involves an $18,000-a-year salary increase--and a transfer to Houston.
While she wants to accept it, Reeves says her town house now is unsaleable without taking a huge loss that she cannot afford, because the condominium has not been completed and the bank has not fulfilled its obligations as the new owner of the complex, such as finishing the basic repairs inside her home. In addition, a condominium association has to exist before a unit owner can sell, but the bank has ignored her requests to form one, her suit charges.
Reeves says she cannot afford to maintain two homes at once, so she may have to give up the promotion, a decision which she says could do irreparable damage to her career. She says the bank bought out the only other individual buyer at the development and does not know why they would do it for the one but not the other.
Her suit is based on the premise that a foreclosing bank is liable for the promises that the developer made to potential buyers. Reeves said that the bank has taken the attitude that it does not have to live up to the developer's obligations and that one bank representative told her, "We just own a few more apartments than you do" in explaining why more was not being done.
"I suffered damages by living on a construction site for a couple of months, but now I'm on the verge of suffering damages I can't even measure with my career," Reeves said recently, sitting in her tastefully decorated living room.
Her replacement as regional vice president of her firm here already has stepped into that job, and the company as informed her it has started interviewing others for the position in Houston in case she cannot take it, she said. In the meantime, Reeves is a regional vice president without a region.
"I think the decision on taking the new job has been made for me by the bank," Reeves said. This is because even if she wins her court case, it may be too late for her to take the new job.
The Chancellor has been a center of controversy since its inception. Developer Simon Hershon first started buying property in 1979 to build the complex, but ran into problems when he discovered that the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission had filed applications for landmark status on buildings there.
Eventually a settlement was reached: Hershon agreed to build in a style compatible with the neighborhood, and height restrictions were placed on the complex. The delays caused by the fight, plus the height restriction, cut down on the development's profitability and may have been a major reason the project went to foreclosure in December, according to persons familiar with the project.
In the past few weeks she has gotten neighbors of sorts, but this has been a mixed blessing, too. Texaco and Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. own corporate suites upstairs from her, and company executives in the last few weeks have started to come and go. But this merely creates a hotel-like atmosphere, she says.
Reeves said she offered to sell her unit to the bank in March for $166,000--her calculation of her total costs minus $10,000 in living expenses she would have incurred anyway--but that the bank turned her down. Now she is asking the courts for a $300,000 award, $200,000 in exchange for the condominium plus $100,000 in damages. The final hearing has been set for May 26 in D.C. Superior Court.
But the loser can appeal that decision, and Reeves' solitary lookout over Washington Circle may not be over for a while. If she loses the court fight, she says she will have no choice but to continue in her current state, an urban lighthouse keeper on the city's shores. And even if she wins the initial rounds, her ship may already have sailed.
"If I win on the 26th, I would just have to make the decision whether I can take the chance" that the decision would be upheld on appeal, she said. If she decided to move and the appeal went against her, however, she said, "I could lose everything."