A Mini-Love Canal in a Pennsylvania HOA

guest blog by Andy Ostrowski (former PA Congressional Candidate)

The Wilson School District was going to purchase a tract of land adjacent to the Hidden Valley condominium. They are both part of the same parcel in the “Lincoln Park” area of West Lawn, Spring Township, Berks County, Pennsylvania. Ironically, you cannot even find the Hidden Valley Condominiums at 1334 West Wyomissing Boulevard address on google maps – it is hidden, indeed. Google map it.

The School District did not go through on the purchase because battery waste was found on the property. The owner of that property, Al Barg, who was also once a President of the Hidden Valley Condominium Owners’ Association, and an owner of several units at Hidden Valley, then sold the property to Weiner Development, which, it is my understanding, is affiliated with Pinnacle Development. In the mid-2000s, Pinnacle constructed Penn’s Crossing on the property, which is a low income retirement apartment building containing 52 units.

The land upon which both are built has been referred to by one Environmental Protection Agency representative as “The Love Canal,” except for the amount of waste involved, which became the subject of national attention when the presence of toxic waste on that site was revealed in the 1970s, after having been concealed for decades. Accordingly, at least the 26 unit owners at the Hidden Valley Condominium, and the 52-plus residents at Penn’s Crossing may be living on contaminated land.

There were two fires at Hidden Valley, one in 1999 and one in 2011, both of which are believed to be electrical in origin. The one in 1999 affected 6 to 8 units. The 2011 fire resulted in the death of one of the residents, after over 80% of his body was burned. Although the Pennsylvania State Police are supposed to have exclusive jurisdiction in the investigation of fires resulting in injuries and death, the Township of Spring Fire Marshall did a report labeling the cause of the fire as “undetermined.” There was allegedly a statement made by the man who died, and a photograph of the burnt inside of an electrical box that were not mentioned in the report.

During my campaign, I began to be contacted by many people from across the country who are residents of Homeowner’s Associations (HOAs), with all manner of horror stories about their experiences. I see these as being core civil rights issues – affecting the very essence of people’s lives – the right to live and raise families in safe, secure, peaceable homes. I wrote a couple pieces about my view of these constitutional issues, i.e., the usurpation of basic government functions, by these private entities, who rely on their money for access and control of legislative initiatives, and their access to the courts, and posted them on my campaign site.

I met a woman who bought a unit at Hidden Valley when she was 26 years old – in 1999. She worked on my campaign. Hers was one of the units affected by the 1999 fire – the bottom, left unit of the building, for those who have seen the photos on http://hiddenvalleyhiddentruths.webs.com/. I learned much more about the situation, and the fifteen years of litigation in which this homeowner had been involved. I will cover more of that story down the road, but the bottom line is that, despite the clear, unequivocal proof of the deplorable conditions of that building, and the failure of the HVCOA and Township of Spring to do and/or enforce the proper repairs, nothing was done. Instead, the litigation turned into a years-long assault on the character and person of the homeowner.

I note that this particular homeowner has shown a character, resolve, and moral fiber that is possessed by only the rarest of breeds of people in this world. She realized what she had come upon, and the number of people who were at risk because of what she learned, and she has fought, against all odds, on the principles involved in this situation – all over a $40,000, 800 square foot condo. As you learn more about this, and as I continue to reveal more of the truths that have been, and continue to be, hidden, ask yourselves “would I have done what this homeowner did? Do I have that strength?”

After relying on lawyers, and getting mistreated by them, for years, the homeowner lost her trial in the Berks County Court. How? Why? This will be another facet of the story along the lines of what I have discussed for the past few years about problems in the courts. More to be revealed. I note that the EPA representative did tell her it was “political,” and he, along with almost all others along the way, told her to “just sell the unit,” i.e., don’t disclose these known hazardous conditions, and put others in harm’s way, and try to move on with your life, and live in peace. She was actually told to get out of the state, or even the country (why would he suggest Belize?).

Not just this, but she was told to “just get out,” “they want you to have a fire and burn the fuck up,” and many frightening, intriguing things along these lines, like turning over a stack of documents containing information about environmental contamination, insurance fraud, and sundry other misconduct, and warning her that “once I turn over these documents, there is no backing out. You must go all the way now, and I will be killed if they find out.” There are two dead former HVCOA Board members. This one, and the one who burned in the 2011 fire, who also was allegedly about to blow the whistle on the HVCOA. More to be revealed.

After she lost her court case in 2009, and had her lawyer mishandle her appeals, and commit egregious malpractice (or deliberate malfeasance), she did not go away. She continued to fight. She continued on her own, with just a few trusted friends along the way, to gather evidence, talk to witnesses, and fight the fight that her heart and conscience motivated her to fight. It was a truly remarkable effort by a truly remarkable person. Again, more to be revealed.

After years of relying on lawyers, not finding anyone who would go down to this property, having her proof cut off at trial, having her personal work product stolen by her own attorneys, being denied any access to justice, and being followed, defamed, harassed, and abused all along, she did finally find a highly-credentialed structural engineer to do a report on the property.

That report was finalized on February 5, 2015. That report confirms everything this homeowner has said all along. That report talks about severe moisture infiltration, subsurface conditions, fire hazards, an entire electrical system in need of evaluation, needed environmental testing, suspicious missing documentation for the Department of Labor and Industry, changed documents, the battery acid meeting minutes, a reference by our EPA friend to this place as a “contaminated condo,” and the fact that “major demolition” is needed to even do any type of full and proper investigation.

On Monday, February 23, 2015, I attended a Spring Township Board of Supervisors meeting with Stephen Runyeon, a friend, and loyal supporter, of the homeowner (more to be revealed). Stephen presented the report and some other information to the Board of Supervisors who, at least in the past, had ample and abundant knowledge of the problems at the Hidden Valley. Stephen did so in a very professional and appropriate manner, supporting the homeowner’s contentions all along. (A Board member communicated that the HVCOA got their lawyer through the Township – more to be revealed). He made a passionate appeal that the Board of Supervisors perform their public duties, and enforce appropriate action to have these issues properly addressed, and to protect the residents of Spring Township who are in harm’s way.

I got up after Stephen, and talked directly about the people in harm’s way, and my motivations in taking an interest in this case, and the extent of the information about the contamination issues, and the HOA issues implicated by this situation, and the problems that occur when government functions are ceded to private, corrupt, money-driven entities. I also asked that this place be condemned, and that steps be taken immediately to address the safety and security of the people at Hidden Valley, at Penn’s Crossing, and in Lincoln Park, where two elementary schools were recently torn down for some vague reason, one specifically on an adjacent tract of land.

Upon advisement, the homeowner did not attend, citing the history of abuse and defamation, and the recent information she learned from her EPA contact after discussions with Township officials that “they” wanted a “pound of flesh” from her, that she would not get off “scot-free” (completely free from obligation, harm, or penalty), among continuing defamatory remarks.

Interestingly, and very sadly, she was also told by this EPA representative that she should just put Hondurans, or Mexicans, or some other people in her unit who would be used to those conditions, and would just be happy to have a roof over their head. Of course, this is unacceptable to this homeowner, as she has always been motivated by the protection of the many lives at risk at this “contaminated condo,” with its mold and fire hazards, and her demand has always been the same – the truth. The truth has been hidden for many years. It is now being revealed.

We need all of your continued assistance. We do not expect the Township to come in and do what they should do, and we are cautious about the other law enforcement authorities taking this case and running with it – read about the effort that was required at the Love Canal. We need this information proliferated. We need the people at Penn’s Crossing contacted. We need the Township contacted. We need to fill the meeting rooms, and use the phone lines of the Attorney General, the U.S. Attorney, the Township of Spring, and Governor of Pennsylvania, and anyone else we can think of to get some attention, and immediate action, on these issues. We need to show the power of the people, and the strength in numbers, and we need to make sure that there are no more hidden truths at Hidden Valley. We need to show that this is what is demanded by our Constitutional right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

You may tell them that you got the information from Andy Ostrowski, and that I asked you to call.

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Ward Lucas is a longtime investigative journalist and television news anchor. He has won more than 70 national and regional awards for Excellence in Journalism, Creative Writing and community involvement. His new book, "Neighbors At War: the Creepy Case Against Your Homeowners Association," is now available for purchase. In it, he discusses the American homeowners association movement, from its racist origins, to its transformation into a lucrative money machine for the nation's legal industry. From scams to outright violence to foreclosures and neighborhood collapses across the country, the reader will find this book enormously compelling and a necessary read for every homeowner. Knowledge is self-defense. No homeowner contemplating life in an HOA should neglect reading this book. No HOA board officer should overlook this examination of the pitfalls in HOA management. And no lawyer representing either side in an HOA dispute should gloss over what homeowners are saying or believing about the lawsuit industry.

6 thoughts on “A Mini-Love Canal in a Pennsylvania HOA

  1. Cynthia

    Phenomenal blog, Andy. Thank you for stating the facts and specifically, the real facts and abuses that so many innocent HOA homeowners who have been abused, slapped, had our homes destroyed, fraudulently foreclosed upon, or other for seeking help with an inappropriate HOA action, or ongoing HOA situation, are forced to endure. In the cases, the cover ups and many times criminal retaliation tactics employed by some abusive HOA boards, some attorneys and other accomplices are horrific. The threats alone, are despicable and unwarranted and I know first hand. “They” do not want anyone to know what they are doing, who they are doing it to, or where the money is! “They” want no accountability for addressing the issues of the HOA homeowners. “They” just want the money and the only issues that will be addressed will be about the HOA, the money, and them, and even if the HOA homeowners concerns, or problems is accountable. No one, no one in America deserves to live through what these homeowners have, or others is situations similar and some, even worse.

  2. Cynthia

    FYI –
    Excellent resource and written by an HOA/COA homeowner advocate who has lived through the HOA (COA) abuses and damages.
    Condo Mold, etc..
    Dr. Joyce Starr on mold in your condo kitchen, bathroom & unit. When condo boards, insurance companies & neighbors refuse to pay – health, life & property risks.

    Mold mess: Contaminated condo leads to long ordeal
    The first sign of trouble came when Rita Siegel touched a cardboard box in her closet and it was wet. She lifted the box, rolled back the carpeting and saw water seeping in from the condominium next door. Then she noticed the smell of mold.

  3. Concerned Citizen

    I am going to try to get at least 2 of my friends a day to call the township and ask a lot of questions. If we all did that they would have no choice but to address the issue.
    Can you provide the pertinent phone numbers to call these agencies you list. LET’S GET TE BALL ROLLING HERE PEOPLE!

  4. Donna Maul

    This is so hazardous, they should be ashamed of them selves, putting everyone in such danger. This has to stop intermediately, and these people need to get all the help they need, physical, psychological, financial an what ever it takes to have this comes to come to a halt NOW!!!!God Bless them.

  5. Tracey

    Wow, I give this woman a thumbs up in her not giving up under such circumstances! I know the all too common suggestion: “move and get on with your life”! People resort to threats when the truth is being exposed!

    So much corruption surrounding this situation that could have been rectified a long time ago! Of course, people are not what count, it is the money involved! And then the court room corruption? That is all too common in the state of Pennsylvania, along with the corruption of the lawyers. I smell parallel situations ongoing all over the country!

    Bravo to her and to you, Andy, and to all those standing up for civil and decent rights! Keep up the good works!


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