Cira and José Rodríguez have resigned themselves to losing the condo they bought seven years ago.
The retired couple cannot afford to pay the special assessment approved by the board of their condo, The Beach Club at Fontainebleau Park in Northwest Miami-Dade County. The assessment more than doubles their monthly maintenance fee.
“We could lose our apartment … just when I am about to turn 78 years old. It seems incredible that this can happen to me,” said Jose, his voice breaking. Added Cira: “It’s difficult when you have worked all your life to have a comfortable retirement, and here we are.”
The assessment fees stem from repairing the roof of 12 buildings in the complex. Six months before its members were reelected in an election in which numerous condo owners contend their ballot signatures were forged, the condo board approved the $5.2 million contract, signed with a 1-year-old roofing company.
Now, the Rodríguezes must pay their regular monthly maintenance fee of $240 per month, plus another $260 per month to cover the assessment.
“We would have to pay more than what we receive from our retirement, and that’s totally impossible,” Cira said. “The lawyer [for the condo association] told us that if we did not pay the special assessment, they could seize our apartment.”
The sudden increase in the monthly payments led some owners to ask permission to review the financial records of the condo association, as well as the company that administers the complex, Sunshine Management Services LLC.
“Unfortunately, the bidding procedures in condos can be easily manipulated, and that is very common in Miami,” said José Pazos, owner of Pazos Robaina Association Management, a company that manages condos. “If the best practices established by the industry are not followed in the bidding process — with sealed bids, received by the lawyer’s office and opened in the presence of owners — there is a risk that it can be manipulated and lack transparency.”
El Nuevo Herald and Univisión 23 analyzed 81 complaints filed in Miami-Dade in 2015 that the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR), the state agency that oversees condos, is investigating. Nine of the complaints allege financial mismanagement.
In 31 complaints, however, the owners said they were denied access to the financial records of their condos, even though state laws guarantee them that right. The lack of access makes it difficult for the DBPR to investigate cases, with the agency saying that it can open an investigation only if evidence for the allegations is submitted.
A ROOFING NIGHTMARE
Owners of The Beach Club have paid about $400,000 to D&T General Contracting Inc. to repair the roofs of the 12 buildings in the 712-unit condo. The owners association began collecting the money last July, and the work began in February.
The board of directors at The Beach Club hired D&T, a Fort Lauderdale company founded by David Taylor just a year before, according to Florida corporate records.
The el Nuevo Herald and Univisión 23 investigation showed that the two other companies that submitted bids for the contract existed only on paper and were linked to employees of Taylor’s companies. The companies are Tri-County Inc., based in Weston, and Northeast Contracting Corp. in Plantation.
Journalists who visited the addresses listed on the bids found they were private homes. The bid submitted by Tri-County listed its address as 16703 Golfview Dr. in Weston. The owner of the property, Joseph Isabella, said he and his wife bought the home five years ago and that no roofing company operates from there.
Broward property records show that from 2004 to 2011, Gary and Anne Tepper owned the property. Both are related to Patricia and Erin Tepper, according to records obtained by el Nuevo Herald. Patricia Tepper’s online résumé showed she worked as director of operations for Taylor Contracting & Roofing, a company owned by Taylor.
The Northeast Contracting bid listed its address in a residential neighborhood of Plantation. When an el Nuevo Herald reporter went to that address on Jan. 25, Erin Tepper was there and declined to comment on whether the company was based at that address. In mid-February, two Univisión 23 reporters found Erin Tepper working at Taylor’s office in Dania Beach. She again refused to comment and ordered the reporters out.
The administrator of Sunshine Property Management, Juliet Siglier, said the Beach Club board decided to hire D&T.
Board vice president Guillermo Merique said that association attorney Héctor Martínez handled the process of verifying and selecting the bids. Martinez twice declined to comment, but later, he and Merique made a conference call to el Nuevo Herald. During the call, Merique changed his version of events, saying that the lawyer had not participated in the selection of the companies and that the process had been the responsibility of the board of directors.
But when a Univisión 23 reporter interviewed Merique on camera, he again said Martínez was responsible for the process of selecting the companies that bid on the roofing contract.
“The companies were verified by the lawyer,” Merique told Univisión 23. “I go by what the lawyer has told me, the legal company that told me, ‘Look, these are the companies that qualify: They are the best, this is the best price, this is what is most convenient.’ ”
El Nuevo Herald tried to contact David Taylor at his home in Fort Lauderdale on March 1. A man at the home said it was not a good time to speak with Taylor because he was preparing for a trip abroad. The man said he would relay El Nuevo’s request for an interview to Taylor. El Nuevo also sent Taylor an emailed request, but he did not reply.
COMPLAINTS AGAINST TAYLOR
A search of public records shows Taylor has created at least 15 roofing companies, and that at least some of them face legal challenges. Condo owners in Broward filed two of the lawsuits.
Owners of the Eagle Nest Townhouses in Coral Springs filed a suit last year against Taylor, his brother Joseph and his firm, ABC Roofing, as well as Tri-Coast Roofing LLC and owner Barry Carter, alleging improper work after Hurricane Wilma. They claim that roof tiles came loose easily, even though the roof has a 20-year guarantee.
Two attorneys representing Taylor who showed up for a Feb. 11 court hearing, which was canceled, declined to comment.
In a separate case, the owners’ association of the Fairway Views condos in Margate filed a complaint against David Taylor with the DBPR alleging improper work in that complex of 176 units. The complaint alleged that the condo paid $3.7 million to fix damage caused by Wilma but that rain continues to seep through the repaired roofs.
“They leaked from day one,” said Sitra Friedman, president of the association and a resident of Fairway Views for a decade. “It was horrible … they changed names several times, and they would not speak with anyone other than the previous president, who gave us no information. Everything was put in wrong. They used the worst materials.”
Each complaint submitted to the DBPR has its own complexities.
At the Commodore Club South condos in Key Biscayne, the former president of the owners association, Carlos Santamaria, was accused of spending $17,200 in condo funds to pay for his phone service and those of his wife and one son, according to DBPR documents.
The payments were made from October 2010 to February 2015, according to AT&T records attached to the complaint. Condo regulations ban using association fees to compensate members of the board of directors. But Santamaria told el Nuevo Herald that four board members and the condo administrator gave him a verbal approval in 2010 to pay himself for the phones because he had to use the lines for work on behalf of the condominium.
Santamaria showed reporters copies of the monthly checks used to pay for the phones — signed by members of the board of directors. He also provided bank records showing that he paid $7,200 to the association for his relatives’ share of the phone bills.
“I can make a mistake, but I don’t steal,” Santamaria said.
Another condo, The Greens in Fontainebleau, agreed in 2013 to a special assessment of its 301 units. The assessment was to make repairs on the seven-story building and obtain the certificate required by the condos’ 40-year inspection.
The association obtained a loan of $728,000 in December 2013 to pay for the repairs, but it has not obtained certification.
Cecilia Sarraf, who became president of the condo in November, said the quality of the work does not reflect the amount paid to the contractor, Placeres Construction. Company official Carlos Placeres said the company carried out all of the repairs specified in an engineering review carried out by SD Consulting Engineers.
“We worked on that condominium for more than one year,” Placeres said. “We finished the job and offered to submit a final report, but no one ever answered … If more leaks appear now, one must understand that the building is more than 40 years old and requires constant repairs.”
Neighbors like Nidia Vázquez said the owners went into debt until 2018 to finance the repairs.
“In this country, I ate too much chicken at 19 cents a pound and too much yellow rice to be able to save the $20 for pay for my place,” said the 77-year-old Vazquez. “My pain now is the fear of losing my house because of a 40-year certification that we have not obtained. And my question is, where is my money?”
Univisión 23 reporter Erika Carrillo contributed to this report. Follow Enrique Flor and Brenda Medina on Twitter: @kikeflor y @BrendaMedinar.