Residents of a run-down Miami building who complained their children were bitten by rats and suffered from a skin disease may soon find themselves homeless.
The City of Miami filed a lawsuit Tuesday demanding the building’s owners “evacuate” the residents so the city can demolish the structure. A copy of the complaint obtained by el Nuevo Herald said the owners had not met a 2016 deadline to fix or demolish the building.
“The property remains unsafe and non-compliant with the Florida Building Code,” said the lawsuit against 946 Property Holdings LLC, owner of the building at 946 SW Fourth St.
Florida corporations records list Christopher Craig as the property title manager and Adam Varga, from Varga Real Estate Consultants, as the registered agent. Several requests for interviews with Varga were not fulfilled. Craig did not respond to messages seeking comment.
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On Thursday, a man who claimed to be the manager and then the owner of the building spent the day with a crew repairing the property. The man, who declined to be identified, said he acted “swiftly” to fix up the building once he found out about the issues. He said he fired the manager and pest control company and is now hiring an attorney to try to negotiate with the city.
The improvements started after residents took their complaints to the news media on Nov. 30. They said their apartments were infested with rats and cockroaches, that some of their children had been bitten by rats, resulting in red welts on their skin.
City Commissioner Joe Carollo, who represents the district, called in inspectors who issued another citation for the unsafe structure. Six children were taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital, including three who were diagnosed with mange, a skin disease.
The man who said he is the building’s owner said he offered to pay residents to move elsewhere, but they refused. Several residents confirmed the offer and said that they simply couldn’t leave on such short notice.
“Even with the security deposit, I would still need a couple thousand dollars to move out, because every renter asks for first and last month plus the deposit,” said Jennifer Gonzalez, a single mother of two boys who lives with her sister, also a single mother of two kids.
Some of the residents said they could not find other apartments they could afford, and that they did not have the money to pay for a new month’s rent and a security deposit. The building is home to more than 20 low-income families who pay from $850 to $1,050 per month in rent.
Others said they don’t own cars and walk, ride bicycles or take public transportation to jobs at nearby Calle Ocho or downtown Miami. If they move far away, they said, they could lose their jobs.
Their plight underscores the shortage of affordable housing in South Florida, one of the metropolitan areas with the highest rents in the United States, according to several reports.
Paula Laguna, the mother of three children – including a 1-year-old girl who was bitten by a rat in her crib – said her apartment was fumigated and the holes on her walls were sealed over the weekend. But the rats remain. She’s found a new apartment, but needs someone to watch her children while she works in construction.
“I don’t want to move and then not have the money for the rent,” she said. “No one wants to take care of my children with mange because that’s contagious.”
Carollo said Wednesday the city planned to ask the judge handling the lawsuit to order the building owners to find new homes for the residents and pay for their move, but those conditions were not included in the complaint.
“We have no trust at all in the owners of that building. If you look at its history, it’s not a history that makes you trust in them, and frankly I don’t understand how that building remained open,” said Carollo. “We will try to help the residents any way we can.”
The city’s lawsuit asks the judge to give the owners up to five days to vacate the building. It says that a safety inspection led to a March 25, 2016, order declaring the building unsafe and ordering the owners to either repair or demolish the structure by September 2016.
“The property continues to suffer several serious structural defects,” the lawsuit noted, such as large holes on the walls and mold on walls and ceilings, rat infestations and damaged windows.
The city lawsuit offers, as an alternative to demolition, the court appointment of a receiver to “manage and complete all required repairs.”
The building has a history of code violations dating back to 2009. The new owners purchased the property in 2014.
“The city has a clear legal right to demolish the property,” the lawsuit noted. “However, it cannot proceed with the demolition until the owners remove the residents from the unsafe structure.”
Follow Brenda Medina on Twitter: @BrendaMedinar