North Miami building where roof collapsed has history of code violations

12/26/2013 9:51 AM

12/26/2013 10:58 PM

The recently repaired roof of a North Miami apartment collapsed under heavy rain Thursday, displacing more than 250 residents and raising new safety questions about a building with a history of code violations.

“It was complete chaos,” said Kerby Dassas, who lives in one of the 72 units at the Gold King Apartments, 13285 NE Sixth Ave. “Water was running down the hallways.”

The building’s roof had undergone repairs this week, but police and residents said the recent renovations coupled with Thursday morning’s downpours spelled devastation for the structure.

“They apparently didn’t secure the roof,” said North Miami Police Maj. Neal Cuevas, a department spokesman. “The rain just made it worse.”

Marjorie Jean-Louis, who has lived at the Gold King complex for two years, said the roof had been in need of repairs for months. She was skeptical of the quality of work done before Thursday’s collapse.

“They must not have done a good job,” she said. “I think they must have gone with a cheap company.”

North Miami Mayor Lucie Tondreau visited the site of the roof collapse, which rendered the building uninhabitable but caused no injuries. She and Councilman Philippe Bien-Aime handed out coffee and doughnuts to residents and promised to hold an emergency meeting to deal with their safety concerns. The mayor added that there was “no excuse” for the residents not to have answers about their building.

A man who said he worked for the Gold King Apartments declined to give his name or talk with reporters at the scene. Attempts to reach the management office or the building’s landlord, identified in public records as Shlomo Chelminsky, were unsuccessful Thursday.

Chelminsky is a well-known name in North Miami, most recently for his connection to a bribery case where he was seen on video giving an envelope stuffed with cash to a nephew of former mayor Andre Pierre.

Chelminsky owns about a dozen apartment buildings along a stetch of Northeast Sixth Avenue. Many of them house low-income residents and have been cited for quality-of-life issues like trash heaps, peeling paint and busted lighting fixtures.

“His properties are disgusting,” David Levin, the city code enforcement board’s vice chairman, said of Chelminsky’s buildings in a 2004 city council hearing. Levin is now deceased.

“Our tenants know we love them,” Chelminsky said at the same meeting.

About that time, officials found cracked sliding glass doors and sawed-off structural posts on balconies at Gold King Apartments. Levin angrily warned then-Mayor Joe Celestin not to let Celestin’s friendship with Chelminsky get in the way of code enforcement.

“This building is terrible,” Gold King tenant Natassia Lewis told the Miami Herald in 2004.

Chelminsky is a central figure in a public corruption investigation that resulted in the 2011 arrest of Ricardo Brutus, Pierre’s nephew and former campaign manager, on charges of unlawful compensation.

Undercover audio and video recordings captured Brutus taking money from Chelminsky and boasting that he could sway council votes, including Pierre’s.

Brutus’ bribery case is scheduled to go to trial next month, and he has denied any wrongdoing. Chelminsky, who is cooperating with state investigators, has not been arrested or charged in connection with the case. Pierre also does not face charges; he was term-limited as mayor and left the office this summer after four years.

The American Red Cross opened a shelter in Miami Gardens for the displaced Gold King tenants. Many of them headed there on buses after waiting hours for good news that never arrived.

“We were just told to leave,” said Sam Marc, 15, lugging a suitcase full of his belongings. “Who knows when we’ll be able to come back?”

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