Cerabino: Suburban West Palm condo association looking to turn tables on Wells Fargo

Alan Meltzer has a fantasy about walking into a Wells Fargo branch and making a dramatic announcement.

“I’m here to collect,” he imagines himself saying. “Give me your cash registers.”

Meltzer isn’t a would-be bank robber. He’s a condominium president who has turned the tables on one of America’s megabanks.

“We bailed out Wells Fargo, then Wells Fargo bailed out on us,” he said.

“Us” in this case is the Forest Condominium Association in suburban West Palm Beach. The Forest condominiums, near the intersection of Haverhill and Gun Club roads, is a sterling example of the damage caused by the overheated housing market and the lending practices that precipitated its collapse.

But unlike other condo owners, the bank never paid the $260 monthly maintenance fees to the association. And to make matters worse, the physical condition of the bank’s empty condo deteriorated.

“We warned them,” Meltzer said. “There was a mold issue in there, and they needed to resolve it. It was coming from a drip from the washer-dryer hookup.”

But nothing happened, so the association went ahead on its own to fix the mold problem in the bank’s unit.

“We had to gut the apartment,” Meltzer said. “It was a big job. They had to go in with hazmat suits.”

So the condo association took the next step, foreclosing on the bank’s condo.

“We treated them just like we would treat any other owner in the community,” Meltzer said.

In July, the condo association became the owner of the gutted unit, which in its present condition isn’t worth as much as its outstanding maintenance and repair bills. To remedy that, the association can pursue something called a “deficiency judgment” against the bank, which would pay for the repairs.

“I’m going to do this,” Meltzer said. “We are a poor community. We don’t have money. This isn’t a clash of the titans. It’s just little us. But the banks are going to learn.”

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