Legal battles continue to hamper full recovery, but Ormond Heritage is moving on.
In sharp contrast to the scene in November, when the lobby at Ormond Heritage Condominiums contained air scrubbers and plastic tarps warning residents of mold, today, the lobby is pleasant, with the scent of pine wafting from the Christmas tree and tinsel decorating the window ledges.
The changes are a result of the new board of directors, whose first action after the Nov. 4 election was to begin the process of removing Paramount Disaster Recovery LLC's scrubbers and the company's trailer, which had been stationed in the condominium's parking lot for 15 months as a constant reminder of not only the lingering damages sustained from Hurricane Matthew, but also as a reminder of the ongoing lawsuit between Paramount and the residents' insurance companies. During those 15 months, residents faced the fear of being evicted if Paramount could prove that mold was still a problem in the condos, which is why many doors still have paper signs taped up citing Florida Statutes that essentially say, "Keep out."
The new board gave Paramount 48 hours to remove the scrubbers and 14 days to get their trailer off the property. The air scrubbers were ultimately taken out by Ormond Heritage and the trailer towed away.
The result? Board Secretary Rich Ryan said he's not sure what the outcome of the board's actions will be with Paramount, but lately there has been a change of attitude among the residents. He said people are more united.
“You can feel it in the room when the owners are present," Ryan said.
Board President Jerry Cutter called the boost in morale the board's greatest achievement to date and that their actions have shown residents there is hope to restore the condominiums to normal.
"We have put Paramount on notice that they do not control the Ormond Heritage, and that’s a big change in the attitude,” Cutter said.
Paramount's impact on Ormond Heritage
Six months after Hurricane Matthew battered the East Coast, Ormond Heritage residents where gathered into the ballroom where Paramount's Joe Radcliff ordered residents to vacate their units immediately due to the discovery of mold by AirQuality Assessors.
“It was hysteria," Cutter said.
He said many of the residents did not receive their AirQuality reports that night to inform them if their specific units were affected. When Cutter asked what would happened if he stayed, he said that Paramount told him the Board of Health would be contacted to condemn his apartment and the sheriff would be contacted to physically evict him.
Paramount declined to comment for this story but directed the Ormond Beach Observer to contact the company's attorney. The attorney did not respond to multiple voicemails.
Cutter got a second opinion to see if there was mold in his unit, and that company found his unit was not affected. It took him two months to get the original AirQuality report.
Ryan said some units were found to have mold, but that it was nowhere near the number they were told initially by Paramount. In November of this year, only 11 units out of the 156, or 7%, were found to have mold.
Ormond Heritage resident Linda Lampman said the outside community seems to think the entire condominium has been evacuated, but that is not the case. Hurricanes did cause damage, but life goes on, and repairs are being made.
Cutter said that when he countered the mold claim, Paramount remove all equipment from his condominium.
“They didn’t argue, which is to me a very important feature," Cutter said. "If you questioned what they did, they did not contest and say, 'We want a third opinion.'”
Hurricane Matthew repairs at a standstill
While the new board has decided that the interior of the condominiums are not under Paramount's current jurisdiction, the disaster relief company still has an outstanding claim over the roof repairs and exterior walls, which the company initially wanted to gut.
Fifteen months have passed since the hurricane, and no permanent roof repairs have been made. Instead, Paramount is currently in federal court in Orlando due to its lawsuit with the residents' insurance companies. Because Cutter, Ryan, Lampman and the rest of the Ormond Heritage residents under the old Board of Directors' direction signed an Assignment of Benefits contract, which hands over all rights to a third party to handle insurance claims, they are not privy to the details of the case.
Had Ormond Heritage not signed away its rights, would the roof be repaired by now? Certainly, said Cutter.
Cutter was involved in the process of putting in a new roof at Ormond Heritage in 2014. It took less than four months.
Ryan added: "If there’s an agreement made, and Paramount gets a settlement, and they are able to be financed to do the real work that needs to be done here that was caused by Hurricane Matthew, I’m rooting for them. I hope that they do receive something, but that’s yet to be determined.”
Return to normal
In the short time since the new board has been active, new common areas have been opened, and the repairs of the main offices are underway.
The board is working on repairing the affected units, and, if all goes well, Cutter said everyone could be back in their units in the next 30 days.
Lampman said the ordeal the residents went through has resulted in a support system of residents. They're slowly getting back to normal, she said.
On Cutter's floor in the South Tower of the Ormond Heritage, Christmas figurines line the walls, and holiday wreaths adorn the unit doors. In a few of the doors, the wreaths surround the sign stating state code to keep unwanted visitors from coming inside.
“We’re not letting Paramount rule our life, and that’s what was happening last year,” Lampman said.