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I enjoyed the Washington City Paper’s story about the D.C. government’s failure to protect condo buyers by enforcing that warranty bonds be in place before condo sales (“Condominium Emptor,” 4/14). I wonder where the attorneys were in the case of the Chelsea, the condominium building in the story that now needs $200,000 in structural work. If the developers used attorneys for their condo filings, did these attorneys have an ethical responsibility to see that the bond was in place before the first condo was sold? Is a complaint to a bar association in order from the condo buyer and other owners in her building? If the developers acted as their own attorneys, could the bar association still become involved?
In the ’70s, when I did a small condo conversion on Capitol Hill, the bonds were a huge pain to obtain. At the end of a conversion, finding 10 percent of the construction costs for a warranty bond can be difficult. All the banks I called wanted dollar-for-dollar collateral, which I finally had to come up with because my lawyer insisted on it. It’s probably the same today. Given the dollar-for-dollar collateral arrangement, the money gets big fast, and the incentive to cheat will always be there until the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs grows up. It has been asleep at the wheel for about 30 years. If D.C. mandated the bond before a building permit was issued based on an estimate of construction costs, you would see 100 percent compliance.