Developer Mark Edlen, two more condo properties join chorus of plumbing defect lawsuits

indigo apartments
Indigo at Twelve West is shown from the Pearl District in an April 15, 2010, file photo. ( Jamie Francis/staff/file)

Elliot Njus | The Oregonian/OregonLiveBy Elliot Njus | The Oregonian/OregonLive
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on July 09, 2015 at 6:40 AM

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Homeowners in two Northwest Portland condo properties have teamed up with executives from the prominent Portland development firm Gerding Edlen to sue a supplier over plumbing parts they say are falling apart prematurely, causing leaks.

The homeowners associations at The Vaux condominiums in Northwest Portland and the 937 condominiums in the Pearl District have filed a suit along with the owners of a high-end apartment and office building, Indigo at Twelve West.

They’re jointly suing Victaulic Co., a Pennsylvania company that sold valves installed in the building’s plumbing systems, collectively seeking $23.5 million in damages. The suit claims not only that the parts are disintegrating, but that Victaulic knew — or should have known — that its products wouldn’t hold up.

It’s the latest in a series of lawsuits against Victaulic, which supplied valves for many Portland condo and apartment buildings built in the 2000s. Four condo owner associations in Portland had previously sued, claiming the rubber used in valves and gaskets is disintegrating.

The newest case brings some added firepower to the collection of homeowners associations. Indigo was developed by Portland-based Gerding Edlen and is owned by a company controlled by two of its top executives, Mark Edlen and Kelly Saito. Gerding Edlen has developed billions of dollars worth of apartments, condos and offices.

In cases that have gone to trial, residents claimed the disintegrating rubber at times caused water to cascade into homes and sent black particles into their drinking water. It’s also prevented shut-off valves from functioning, inhibiting other repairs.

The lawsuits have cast a pall on sales of condos in downtown Portland and the Pearl District. Banks typically won’t approve mortgages for condos in buildings tied up in litigation. Sellers have to find cash buyers — and usually accept a lower sale price.

Victaulic has disputed the claims that the rubber it used is to blame. It’s admitted at trial that the parts are disintegrating prematurely but argued they were improperly installed in incompatible water systems.

Anne Cohen, a Portland attorney with Smith Freed & Eberhard who has represented the company, declined to immediately comment Wednesday.

Managers at the Indigo apartment building are going so far as to deliver bottled water to residents until the Victaulic valves are replaced.

In a message sent to residents at Indigo on Tuesday — the same day the lawsuit was filed — and obtained by The Oregonian/OregonLive, Edlen said the building’s owners were seeing evidence of black particulates in the water supply.

“While the manufacturer of the plumbing parts represents that its product is safe, we’re not satisfied with that and we remain concerned,” the message said.

Indigo’s managers are planning to deliver five-gallon bottles of water to residents on demand until the parts are replaced, Edlen said. The building — where a studio apartment rents for $2,295 a month and penthouses go for more than $6,000 a month — will also discount rents 10 percent while the invasive repairs are completed.

Michelle McClure, an attorney at Landye Bennett Blumstein LLP who is representing the owners of Indigo, The Vaux and 937, declined to comment. She’s also represented owners at other buildings that have sued Victaulic.

Other lawsuits have had mixed results.

Homeowners at The Elizabeth Lofts in the Pearl District settled with Victaulic out of court. They had sought $3.1 million in damages in Multnomah Circuit Court, but the settlement terms weren’t disclosed.

Owners at The Edge Lofts took Victaulic to trial in 2014, seeking $1.5 million to cover the costs of six leaks since 2010, including repairs in damaged condos and replacing the building’s plumbing system. But a jury awarded only $114,000.

Owners at the Benson Tower won $2 million in damages in a trial in January, even though that building hadn’t had damaging leaks.

A case involving Avenue Lofts in the Pearl District is still pending. A jury trial is set for March.

— Elliot Njus

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