The Royalton at River Oaks high-rise condo building evacuated amid structural concerns

Saturday, August 13, 2022
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The Royalton at River Oaks is a well-known landmark that towers over Allen Parkway. The high-rise, though, is experiencing problems, which have forced residents out without knowing how long they'll be away from home.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A well-known luxury high-rise had to be evacuated amid possible structural issues, with no timeline for residents to return.

The Royalton at River Oaks, which overlooks Allen Parkway, is recognizable by its crown rooftop. The high-rise condominium complex is popular with wealthy Houstonians, including Sen. Ted Cruz in the past.

But Thursday night, everyone who lived in that 33-story building were told to get out immediately.

"You know, they have an emergency channel," longtime resident Geoff Vaughan recalled. "They said, 'Get out of the building!' No pleasantries at all. It wasn't like, 'Attention, Royalton residents.' It was, 'Get out, now!'"

According to an email sent to residents on Thursday night, structural engineers were called to evaluate the building after concrete on the first floor buckled. The whole first floor is a mess, with water and sand all over the bottom floor of the building

Video obtained by ABC13 shows residents evacuating on Thursday evening in ankle deep water through the lobby. Other residents describe water pouring through elevator shafts.

Water main lines also ruptured on some residential floors, according to the email. Two remediation companies were working to repair the "extensive" water damage.

Engineering and remediation workers surrounded the building all day. With no electricity inside, residents lined up to trudge up flights of stairs to get clothes and medicine.

Images of sweaty and frustrated condo owners hauling out their possessions are a far different scene than the glamorous penthouse tour ABC13 got from a realtor a few years ago. Units in the Royalton sell anywhere from $400,000 to over $1.2 million, depending on the size and location. However, several realtors pulled their active listings after the evacuation.

"Everybody needs to be safe, and they're going to have to check out the structural integrity of the building before anybody goes back in," said realtor Stephanie Smith, who pulled one of her listings. "Who knows when they're going to be able to repair the damage, and find out what happened to the building and try to rectify it."

Attorney Rob Todd, who happens to have an office in a building next door, had already signed up four clients as potential clients on Friday.

WATCH: 13 Investigates uncovers past claim against evacuated high-rise

"They are concerned about their insurance, about their homes," Todd said, adding other attorneys in the building he offices out of are hoping the structural problems don't affect adjoining properties.

The City of Houston told ABC13 that the building is now closed, and it no longer has an active certificate of occupancy. There is no timeline for when residents will be able to return.

The Royalton sent the following email to residents on Thursday night:

"Structural Engineers will be onsite within the hour to begin an evaluation. The cause of the damage is unknown at this time. To summarize what we have found so far, the first floor concrete buckled near the business center/management office and main water lines ruptured on some residential floors (still evaluating).Water remediation is in progress on the first floor at this time. There are two remediation companies on board as the water damage seems to be extensive.Main Security and HPD are onsite and will continue to patrol the building 24/7 until further notice. We are unsure how long the evacuation will be in place. Phone lines and computers are not working but we will continue to communicate by email.We hope everyone is safe and we will keep you informed."