Westside : HEFTY AWARD

Residents of the upscale Venice Renaissance condominium complex found that money doesn't necessarily buy sturdy ceilings.

Shoddy construction prompted the condo owners, more than 60 in all, to file a lawsuit last year against the developer of the complex, HLC Construction Co. This month, they won a $7.9-million settlement, according to the group's attorney, Cynthia Woollacott.

Condo owners said they received their first payment last week--a whopping $1.6 million--all of which is going toward repairing the water-damaged complex. The attorney for HLC Construction said the terms of the agreement preclude him from talking about the settlement.

Woollacott said pieces of ceiling began to fall after heavy rains soaked Los Angeles in December, 1991. The carpets were so badly drenched--and stayed wet for so long--that mushrooms began growing in the thick pile. Some tenants found worms and garden plants growing in the dampness behind the plaster walls where rain had leaked, Woollacott said.

HLC Construction performed minor repairs on the condos, which cost an average of $400,000 per unit, but the ceilings have continued to leak, she said.

Renovation of the building will begin next year, which will force residents to move out of their homes for about six months.

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