Five months before the roof at Gold King Apartments caved in Thursday under a downpour, spilling rain water through the halls and exiling hundreds of tenants, North Miami inspectors issued a directive: Fix the roof.
Exactly when the building’s owners tried to address the violation — one of many since 2010 — isn’t yet clear. But tenants say repairs were put off for months. And when work did begin, city officials say contractors left the job unfinished during the holidays, causing the roof to buckle under a heavy rain.
On Friday, with some residents in shelters and others wondering where they would sleep, work began once again atop the soaked four-story building. Meanwhile, the city of North Miami tried to determine the extent of its problems with Shlomo Chelminsky, the owner of a small kingdom of apartments in the city.
“We’re still trying to gather all the information on violations for this owner and the buildings he owns,” said North Miami Police Maj. Neal Cuevas, a department spokesman.
Over the years, tenants and code enforcement officials have derided Chelminsky’s dozen or so buildings along Northeast Sixth Avenue, registered to companies bearing the name “King” — and many of them housing low-income residents. City records released Friday evening to the Miami Herald show the structure was cited on eight instances during the past three years for issues like an inoperable elevator, the need to “obtain a certificate of use,” and a collapsed sewer main that left one unit uninhabitable.
The city appears to have placed several liens on the building in 2010 due to then-unresolved violations.
But Chelminsky is perhaps best-known for cooperating with investigators in a public corruption investigation that resulted in the 2011 arrest of Ricardo Brutus, the nephew and former campaign manager of former mayor Andre Pierre. Chelminsky was recorded on video giving envelopes stuffed with cash to Brutus.
Brutus’ bribery case is scheduled to go to trial next month, and he has denied any wrongdoing. Pierre, who left office due to term limits, does not face charges.
Attempts to reach Chelminsky were again unsuccessful Friday. But a man who answered the phone at the Gold King office and identified himself as Chelminsky’s son, Allen Chelminsky, said the bribery sting had nothing to do with the string of problems at the apartment building.
“Obviously, one has nothing to do with the other. He was cooperating,” said the younger Chelminsky, who according to state records replaced his father as Gold King Apartments LLC manager in April. “Right now I just want to focus on these buildings.”
As a drizzle started Friday afternoon, contractors could be seen atop the 45-year-old building at 13285 NE Sixth Ave., and what appeared to be cleaning crews milled about a second-story unit. Allen Chelminsky said he was optimistic that repairs would be done by the evening and tenants would be able to return.
But Analia Silencieux said she was bracing for another night away from home. The housekeeper and her carpenter husband stayed the previous night in a hotel, but she said she was out of money and unsure what she would do Friday evening.
“Last night, it was good luck. I had $100 in my hand,” she said. “Tonight, I don’t know.”
Some tenants told the Miami Herald they were staying with family. At least 17 were spending the night at a Miami Gardens American Red Cross shelter.
Silencieux said she was allowed into her unit in the morning to gather more of her belongings. She said crews were cleaning apartment units with wet vacs, and the building smelled of roofing chemicals. She doubted anyone would be able to come back to the building, something echoed by Cuevas, the police major.
“It’s going to be at least next week,” he said, “if not longer.”