All Alone in a 32-Story Florida Condo Tower

Real estate crisis left family in a ghost town

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    Noisy neighbors is one problem this Jersey dad does not have to deal with.

    The Florida housing crisis has turned a 32-story luxury condo into a virtual ghost town, with just one family residing in what should have been a booming community.

    Victor Vangelakos, a 45-year-old firefighter from New Jersey, purchased a condo at Fort Myers' Oasis Tower One, as an investment for his future, according to Fort Myers News-Press He and his wife Cathy wanted to use the sunny pad as a vacation home for their family of five. Eventually they hoped to make it their permanent home, where they could enjoy a poolside retirement. But instead of socializing at the clubhouse, the Vangelakos family has been spending their Florida time listening to either the sounds of trespassers or the deafening silence that permeates the place.

    "At night," he said, "you can see our TV from the street," a blue light glowing in a wall of darkness and a sign to all those who pass that they're the only ones home.

    His would-be neighbors, who put deposits down before the market turned sour, pulled out at the last minute, or swapped their units for a condo in nearby Oasis Tower Two. Vangelakos also tried to move to the other condo, but couldn't get approval from his lender, forcing him to close the $430,000 deal in November.  After realizing the consequences of being the sole occupant of an enormous building, he wants The Related Group, the company that sold him the condo, to buy him out.

    For one thing, management, maintenance, and all other personnel responsible for protecting and maintaining the property aren't under much pressure to act quickly and thoroughly.

    The clubhouse TV works, but Vangelakos can't find the remote. The lights in their parking garage have been turned off, and trespassers use the condo pool, taking illegal dips and even tossing patio furniture into the pool on their way out.  Vangelakos has also had some problems with utilities. Management had to turn off his water to fix a leak in a pipe, but when the family "came back 10 days later the water was off but our TV was on," he said.

    His family is finding the experience a little creepy. 

    "It’s very eerie,” Vangelakos said. “It’s almost like a scary movie.”

    He and his wife sleep with cellphones by the bed, which they had to use one night when a tresspasser began banging on their door at 11p.m.  They called staff at the front desk of the neighboring condo, who called the cops.  The tresspassers were never busted, though cops found an open pool gate that was likely their point of entry, according to The Associated Press.

    “I’m not a chicken, but this is a big building,” Cathy Vangelakos said.

    Now the Jersey dad is fighting two battles with the help of his attorney, John Ewing. He's negotiating with The Related Group for their alleged shortcomings, and he's trying to convince Vangelakos' lender, JPMorgan Chase, to permit the swap to another condo.

    Betsy Lu McCoy, vice president and associate corporate counsel for The Related Group, acknowledged the tough situation.

    “We did not foresee, nor did anyone else foresee, the collapse of the real estate business and the concurrent collapse of the lending industry,” McCoy said. “They’re caught and we’re caught.”