The numbers are coming in slowly, but Seattle officials are estimating there could be anywhere from 150 to 200 leaky condominiums in the city.
They hope to nail the figure down in the coming months with a survey aimed at determining both how bad the problem is and what might be causing it.
Meanwhile, Seattle City Councilwoman Jan Drago will hold a workshop at 5:30 p.m. tomorrow in council chambers to help gauge the severity of the problem, educate owners and get guidance on what steps the city should take.
"It's a first opportunity that condo owners can have to talk to somebody about it, whether it's to share their information, express their anger, vent - whatever - give us suggestions," said Drago, who owns a condominium.
Saddled with a steady supply of wind-driven rain and a high-density building boom, the Puget Sound area is seeing siding problems that could end up costing insurers an estimated $100 million and homeowners many millions more. The problems lead to leaks that flood interiors and, worse yet, rot out building walls so badly that repairs to some structures are costing more than their original price.
Consultants and architects - interviewed last summer for a Seattle Times story that prompted Drago to look into the problem - say the leaks stem from shoddy workmanship, poor materials, inadequate inspections and the pressures of the regional building boom. Homeowner associations say they are left to navigate a maze of insurance claims and court cases that implicate developers, contractors, subcontractors and manufacturers.
The city Department of Construction and Land Use (DCLU), in a response to questions raised by Drago in September, said moisture-damage problems appear to be more prevalent among 10- and 15-year-old buildings. Permit applications indicate that nearly 1,000 multifamily housing projects went up in Seattle since 1984.
In a meeting with Drago last week, members of the DCLU's Construction Code Advisory Board said they have a preliminary estimate of 150 to 200 affected apartments and condominiums. The problem has long lurked beneath the radar of public officials, as complaints have been channeled through courts and insurance companies, Drago said.
Many owners also appear to be unwilling to respond to the board's survey for fear of hurting their investments, even if the city is promising them anonymity.
"My personal opinion is it directly affects property values," Drago said. "Here's owners struggling with a problem that is both financially stressful as well as emotional, and they may very well not want their identification known."
Tomorrow's workshop will include an overview of how siding works, a panel discussion and a chance for audience members to ask questions and comment. Featured guests in the panel discussion will include an attorney specializing in condominiums, a developer and an insurance adjuster.
It also will feature the former owner of a leaky condominium who is what Dan McGrady, a Drago aide, called "a perfect example of everything that can go wrong and did go wrong" with a leaking condo.