Little Havana

2006 report detailed problems with Havana Palms condos in Little Havana

In January 2006, executives at Montara Land V, LLC, hired a firm to do an analysis of the roof, structure, plumbing, and other conditions of an apartment complex in Little Havana that they wanted to convert to condominiums.

This report, submitted to the state department that regulates conversions, concluded that the buildings, constructed in 1946, barely had five more years of “useful life.” The cost for repairs would be about $700,000, according to the analysis by architect James Chastanet.

“My report was based on the age of the building and on a visual inspection,” said Chastanet, who did not see structural damage. “It’s an old building and that had to be clearly highlighted in the report, which serves as disclosure for potential buyers.”

Montara Land’s executives presented this information to the 19 buyers, most of them low-income people who relied on government help to buy their condominiums between December 2006 and July 2010. Yet many of them never read this information, which was included as part of a large package of documents from the Havana Palms condominium association.

Last month, seven years after the analysis, the living-room floor of one of the condominiums collapsed and the owner had to move. The floors in other units also do not appear to be firm.

Aníbal Duarte-Viera, one of the partners of Montara Land, said Monday that he would have never knowingly bought a property with structural damage.

“As an investor, why would I do that?” asked Duarte-Viera. “I bought that property because it was pretty and it was a moment when everybody was making these conversions to condominiums.”

Public records show that Duarte-Viera and business partner Gabriel De la Campa bought the complex in 2005 for $2.5 million and invested about $120,000 in repairs to the electrical system and water pipes besides installing a central air conditioning system, according to city permits. They also installed tiles on the floors, though they did not get a city permit for that.

Duarte-Viera, a lawyer, said he had little involvement in managing the complex and therefore could not answer questions about repairs or the conversion, even though his signature appears on various documents. De la Campa has not responded to multiple calls from el Nuevo Herald in recent weeks.

The documents that Montara Land submitted to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation in Tallahassee indicate that the company deposited $62,000 in special accounts for roof and plumbing repairs as required by state laws.

Apparently, they were not obliged to open a reserve account for other structural repairs, although they had to make monthly payments to the association for each of the 32 condominiums for the general maintenance of the complex. As soon as they sold the condominiums, the responsibility for those payments — between $162 and $222 per month — passed to the new owners.

The Havana Palms unit owners began to notice in 2009 that the floors in some condominiums were sinking. Montara Land began some repairs. Records indicate the work was never completed.

By 2011, after the real estate market plunged, Montara sold the remaining 13 condominiums to investor Constantino Cicchelli for $475,000.

For now, a group of Havana Palms owners is talking to an attorney who has agreed to take their case pro bono. Meanwhile, city officials have asked the owners to present a repair plan for the floors to avoid a mass eviction.

Duarte-Viera said Wednesday that the condo owners should determine the extent of the structural damage and how it started. He added that he is willing to pay for a detailed evaluation.

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