Victor and Cathy Vangelakos look out from their ba.
(photo credit: AP)
The Vangelakoses' southwest Florida condominium has
marble floors, a large pool overlooking a river and modern furnishings
that speak of affluence and luxury. What they don't have in the
32-story building is a single neighbor.
The family of five from the northeast state of
New Jersey purchased their unit four years ago, when Fort Myers was in
the midst of a housing boom and any hints of an impending financial
crisis were buried in lofty dreams of expansion and development. They
made a $10,000 down payment and eagerly watched as builders transformed
an empty lot into an opulent high-rise, one that now symbolizes the
"The future was going to be southwest Florida," said Victor
Vangelakos, 45, a fire captain who planned to retire eventually and
live permanently in the condo.
Most of the other tenants in the 200-unit condo didn't close on
their contracts, and the few who did have transferred to an adjacent
building owned by the same company because more people live there.
The Vangelakoses' mortgage lender will not allow them to do the same.
That leaves them as the sole residents of the Oasis Tower One.
"It's a beautiful building," said their attorney,
John Ewing, who is representing 27 others who made deposits on units.
"The problem is, it's a very lonely building."
When the Vangelakoses travel from Weehawken, New Jersey, just
across the Hudson River from New York City, to spend a week or a few
days in their Florida home, they have exclusive use of the pool, game
room and gym, but they miss having a few tenants around.
"Being from the city, it's very eerie," Vangelakos said. "It's almost like a scary movie."
A large, circular fountain in front of the building is dry. The
automatic glass doors that lead to the front lobby are locked. On the
front desk is a guest sign-in sheet. The last entry: February 13, 2009.
"It's like time froze here six months ago," Ewing said.
Vangelakos said they closed on the apartment in the autumn,
unaware the other tenants had failed to follow through. When they
visited around Christmas, they didn't think much of the emptiness. They
were just happy to be there.
"We wanted to believe," Cathy Vangelakos said. "We were looking for what we were offered."
On subsequent visits, however, the building grew more deserted.
The lights on the pool and palm trees were off. Their garbage
chute was sealed, a trash bin placed in front of their unit instead.
Despite the empty units, they faithfully parked in their
assigned spot on the second story of the parking garage. Then those
lights went off, too.
Then there were security concerns. One night, someone pounded
on their door at 11 p.m. They called the front desk at the next door
building, which contacted police. A search turned up no one, though a
pool entrance was open.
Another morning they awoke to find lounge chairs in the pool.
The parents and their children sleep with their cellphones by their beds.
"I'm not a chicken, but this is a big building," Cathy Vangelakos said.
Betsy McCoy, vice president and associated general counsel with
The Related Group, which sold the family their unit, said they have
tried to help find a solution - even offering them a unit in the
building next door, free of cost, while the situation is resolved.
"They haven't wanted to take us up on that," she said. "They
frankly rejected every solution and offer and proposal that we've come
McCoy said some of the interested buyers who put down deposits
had lost their jobs, others were unable to get mortgages and some were
just nervous when the financial collapse came.
The Cape Coral-Fort Myers metropolitan area in Lee County has
some of the worst economic stress - a combination of foreclosures,
unemployment and bankruptcies - in the country, according to The
Associated Press's monthly analysis of more than 3,100 US counties.
The latest AP Economic Stress Index, which assigns each county
a score from 1 to 100, with higher numbers reflecting the greatest
stress from the recession, found Lee County had a score of more than
20. Anything above 11 is considered stressed.
Victor Vangelakos said they don't want to move to the tower
next door because they would still be paying the mortgage and
maintenance costs on the condo they own. They paid $430,000 for the
unit and took out a $336,000 mortgage - essentially spending their life
He'd like for The Related Group to buy them out.
"They want us to be refugees in Tower II," Victor Vangelakos said. "That's not how I expected us to live here."
The family's attorney said he has filed two lawsuits on behalf
of would-be tenants because the building wasn't finished as promised.
He said they expected a clubhouse, marina, private cinema and
McCoy said those amenities could be developed, but were never promised.
On Friday evening, the pool area was dark, most of the doors locked.
Cathy Vangelakos and her 19-year-old daughter, Amanda, stepped
into an elevator to head up to their unit. "Going up," an automated
"Going up," Cathy Vangelakos said. "That's all we hear."