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Developer’s Design Flaws Put Condo Tenants in Danger with Greenhouse Effect

Excitement abounded when one California property developer unveiled its latest high-rise condominiums. The building was a dream with its full glass exterior and floor-to-ceiling windows. However, in their rushed attempt to construct the luxurious multi-family housing, the developers failed to install proper insulation and ventilation in the units. The condos also lacked air conditioning due to the coastal climate. Unfortunately, these factors caused a greenhouse effect in the apartments, turning homes into sweltering nightmares; even mild sunny days caused temperatures in the glass building to rise as high as 92° F.

The severe heat was more than just an inconvenience. For older residents and those with health conditions, the situation was seriously dangerous. Seeking refuge from the oppressive heat became impossible when the pandemic led to stay-at-home orders. The lack of safety even within their own homes led the homeowner’s association to finally take action.

Members of the HOA decided to approach BERDING|WEIL, a construction defect and community association law firm noted for its dedication to clients over its 35-year history. They found refuge in attorneys Daniel Rottinghaus and Howard Silldorf. Daniel and Howard were horrified by the condo residents’ situation. While the two attorneys empathized, they found it extremely difficult to illustrate the severity of the problem using only their words.

Daniel and Howard worked with the HOA and built a compelling case that could finally get the developers to address the building defect. Alongside the evidence from the building’s blueprints, they assembled a team of construction experts, architects, and engineers who illustrated their case. Daniel and Howard realized the last essential piece to their case: an animation. They approached DK Global with the idea of an animation that demonstrated the heat gain. The attorneys showed the animators the evidence they’d gathered and worked together to finally create a video that succinctly expressed the HOA’s situation.

The video began with an animation of the building as the heat rose throughout the day and reached peak temperature at 12:30 PM. Next, a rendering of the window’s facade and intricate inner structure demonstrated how the spacing of the window’s components created a “heat cavity” of exposed metal around the fresh air vent. A diagram of the sun’s rays and outside air showed that the cavity superheated the fresh air as it flowed into the apartment. The video illustrated large areas of aluminum and concrete in the apartment structure that acted as heat conductors which significantly raised the apartment temperature. In addition to this, the oversized glass of the window allowed direct solar radiation to enter the room. Next, a clock displaying the time of day and two thermometers appeared on the screen: one of them measured the outside temperature, and the other, the trickle vent temperature. As the day wore on, the vent reached a peak temperature of 92°F while the outside temperature never rose above 67°F. Even as the night fell, the trickle vent temperature stayed hot. A graph outlined the extreme temperature differential inside and outside of the apartment.

Armed with their compelling evidence, high-level experts, and the animation, Daniel and Howard felt confident that they could win the case. They were right. They settled for a sum that allowed the HOA to finally fix the building so that the condos could become the safe, luxury havens that they were meant to be.

Daniel L. Rottinghaus has been a partner at BERDING|WEIL since 1995. He is a litigation partner and represents commercial and residential real estate clients in construction defect cases. He has been named a Northern California Super Lawyer for over ten years. Rottinghaus has served as a Special Task Force legal advisor for the U.S. State Department and Lead attorney for U.S. Army cases, earning the Department of State “Superior Honor Award” in 1993.

Howard J. Silldorf is a partner at BERDING|WEIL and has represented clients throughout Southern California for nearly 30 years. He has recovered more than $200,000,000 in over 100 cases. Howard has earned the Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Rating of “AV Preeminent” in construction defect representation, a prestigious accomplishment attained by attorneys of the highest level of professional excellence.


"Working with DK Global is so helpful because they have the type of experts on staff that can help contribute — can help tell us what might benefit us — what might be meaningful through the course of the case."
Jill Jackson - Berding & Weil
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