Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Three Months Without Hot Water at Lake Anne

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Three Months Without Hot Water at Lake Anne

The Lake Anne of Reston issue is a microcosm of our national politics. We, too, are experiencing dysfunction due to years of mismanagement by a property management company that cashed checks and turned a blind eye. As the Ernst & Young audit revealed, there are violations of our bylaws and self-dealing in this vacuum of oversight. The hot water crisis is a direct result of these compounding issues. Today we approach nearly three months of 25 units without hot water, which has affected the daily lives of 50+ members.

I, along with Directors Kevin Le and George Hadjikyriakou, consulted with master plumbers and a structural engineer. We developed the short term and long term solutions and were in the process of implementing the remediation plan to fix the plumbing. To our surprise, a recently defeated Board member, Jason Romano, directed our Maintenance Manager to change the locks to the boiler room and the LARCA administration office, locking out the Plumber and Electrician from inspecting the boiler room. We waited outside for hours last week.

Romano also instructed the LARCA property management company Community Management Corporation (CMC) to block the release of funds for any work we planned to initiate. Our efforts are frozen. CMC refused to return our calls and emails. With no relief designed for the affected owners and our efforts blocked, we requested that CMC supply their own approved vendors, as they should have at the start of the problem, but they have not responded.

As a result, we have 50 people living in a pandemic with no hot water in the middle of winter. They are forced to boil water on the stove, shower at gyms and friends' homes. We laid out the plan to immediately get small water heaters installed in each unit and access the electrical panel to handle added usage. For the long term, the experts suggested abandoning the old, corroded pipes and mapping out a new above-ground pipe system that can easily be accessed when problems arise in the future. Our existing lines are buried under two feet of concrete, a symptom of poor design from inception.

Romano, with the help of CMC, is essentially holding our members hostage. One might ask, why is CMC enabling this? I had been very vocal over the past year about replacing them once we had a majority on the Board. CMC will make well over $200,000 in 2021 off of LARCA. They have made over $1.3M over the last 14 years while our infrastructure crumbled.

LARCA deserves a competent, proactive property management company and a Board who will look out for our community's best interest. Last week, our neighbor Robin Jordan had no choice but to hang a sign on her balcony to express her outrage. Romano refuses to answer the owners' questions in his meetings or respond to members' calls and emails. He directed members to send questions to the LARCA Administrative Assistant, a newly hired CMC employee who will cost us over $70,000 this year.

I contacted Supervisor Walter Alcorn's office for assistance. They promised a response, and I am still waiting. In two Town Hall style meetings, which Director Kevin Le and I initiated in November and December 2020, I asked Supervisor Alcorn for more involvement and assistance in tackling the aging infrastructure of LARCA. Commercial owner members who are the majority, minority-owned, expressed concern over the favoritism in the form of monies being allocated to a small group's businesses who also controlled our Board of Directors for well over 15 years. They asked that the County intercede on their behalf and even audit our financials as they do not receive services and are left to repair their shop's infrastructure out of pocket while paying exceedingly high association fees. We have requested a follow-up meeting with Supervisor Alcorn.

Many LARCA members contacted the Health Department and local news organization to raise awareness out of frustration with the lack of response and ongoing cold showers.

Despite our issues, the LARCA community is a vibrant and robust group. This is the sort of community where your neighbors reach out to you just to say hello or to drop off homemade treats, offer to walk your dog, or grocery shop for you. We know that this will pass, too. Still, I want to ensure that the right institutional changes are implemented so that our members can enjoy their homes and community without the worry of losing basic amenities like hot water.

Senzel Schaefer

President, Lake Anne Reston Condominium Association (LARCA)