Courtesy of The Orlando sentinel
CORNERS -- The state Attorney General's Office is reviewing the actions of a
Florida developer based on new complaints that the company took hundreds of
thousands of dollars in deposits but has not built the homes.
Sandi Copes, a spokeswoman with the Attorney General's Office, said the new
complaints followed an Orlando Sentinel article on the developer, British
American Homes LLC, that ran last month. The office had received six
complaints in about 16 months prior to that and forwarded the matter to
another state agency, the Department of Business & Professional
"In light of DBPR's recommendations that we re-examine and in combination
with new complaints, we are making a second informal review," Copes said
Two couples have sued the developer in a class action in Miami-Dade County;
their attorney says 100 other investors want to be included. Most are British
citizens. The suit claims the company "misappropriated" deposits on
vacation homes. Seven others filed separate suits against the company in
Osceola circuit court.
The investors are seeking deposits of as much as $78,000 that they put down
starting in 2004. Though the company had said it was developing a 243-unit
subdivision on 120 acres in Osceola County, it has yet to receive
county-required permits that would allow it to begin construction.
A trailer, lime-rock parking area and signs with the name Elliot's Landing
were at the site this week, which showed signs of some tree clearing. A county
spokeswoman said Thursday that the permit for the trailer was put on hold last
year and the developer was going to have to remove it. The county was also
investigating the removal of 100 trees without a permit.
"We are aware of it and investigating and will assess penalties
accordingly," said spokeswoman Niki Whisler. The developer could be fined
$250 per day for a first offense, and up to $5,000 per violation if the damage
is irreparable, said Whisler, citing state law.
In addition, the company took thousands of dollars in deposits on another
development in Polk County, other investors told the Sentinel. But attorneys
said the company did not own the land, and a Polk County planner could find no
record of a project planned there.
A Web site hosted by Investment Property Shop states that British American
Homes' Chelsea's Landing subdivision in Davenport will have 160 four-bedroom
Mediterranean-style villas. "Chelsea's Landing will be a master planned
resort community with the elegant lifestyle and ambience of the Mediterranean
captured in a spectacular setting," the Web site says.
But the real-estate agent handing the $9 million property said British
American Homes failed to close on a deal to buy the 33-acre site last year.
"They did not even show up," Abdulfattah Abdullah said. Hudson Gabay,
who heads British American Homes, could not be reached for comment. The
company's Miami number was not in service, and he did not return calls to a
Central Florida office.
In an e-mail to an investor this week, Gabay wrote that the project would be
in front of a county review committee within the next six weeks. County
officials said the developer has taken no action on the project since last
year when negotiations about a road ended.
The class action suit filed against British American Homes, Sega Ventures Ltd.
and Gabay individually alleges violations of the Florida Racketeer Influenced
and Corrupt Organization Act. "It is believed the defendants have
misappropriated the deposits of the plaintiffs and have no intention of
returning deposits," the suit states.
It seeks return of the deposits and asks that work on the subdivision be
stopped until the plaintiffs receive "all monies owed." The suit
also seeks attorney fees and damages.
"All my clients want is their money back," said Omar Ortega, one of
the attorneys involved in the suit.
Natalia Munoz, another attorney working on the case, said the suit asks for
the company to comply with a court order by providing records of its finances,
the business relationship between the defendants and identification of every
plaintiff that entered into a purchase contract.
The head of a group that helps connect British customers with properties in
Central Florida said he was concerned when a spate of developers started
projects in the U.S. Highway 27 corridor several years ago.
Builders with no track record started pitching projects to British clients
when speculation in the local real-estate market was at a fever pitch, said
Peter Stanhope, president of the Florida Brits Group. He said he has been
tracking about "five to seven developments that haven't developed."
But some investors, such as Nigel Ellis, don't want to give up on owning a
vacation home in Central Florida.
It's been about two years since Ellis, who works for an American bank outside
of London, signed a contract for a "vacation villa" at Elliot's
Landing in the booming Four Corners area where Orange, Osceola, Lake and Polk
counties meet. He's still on the fence between taking legal action and waiting
a bit longer to see if his $78,000 investment pays off.
"It's very frustrating and worrying," Ellis said. "Part of me
wants to join the legal action groups, and the other part wants to stay in and
have our villa built. I feel like I'm between a rock and hard place and really
don't know what my best move is right now."
When he invested, Ellis said, he assumed his money was safe because of
"strict laws" in this country.
"It's a stable, solid country. I'm surprised," he said. "It's
worth waiting for. But if nothing comes out of it, it will have been a
horrible experience: Your dream home has turned out to be a nightmare."