Homeowners upset over high repair bill
Shoddy work cited for fee hike

Published March 30, 2003
Article Courtesy of Miami Herald

CONTINENTAL PARK - For the 300 owners of townhomes in Dadeland Cove, the news could not be worse.

A local engineering firm says their homes are falling apart, thanks to shoddy construction. The developer has gone bankrupt and vanished -- no one even knows his name.

And it looks as though the homeowners' $3 million repair bill is all theirs.

''The building flaws and structural defects that have been revealed are pretty much alarming. That's why the cost is so unbelievable,'' said Terry Chavez, president of the Dadeland Cove Homeowners Association. ``There are some people that can't afford it, but what can we do?''

The association has taken out a $3 million line of credit because an engineering firm found that nearly all the homes in the development at Southwest 102nd Street and 77th Avenue have serious problems -- including leaks in bay windows, balconies that are rotting, and overhangs and other wall structures that are separating from the main buildings.

The $3 million loan means homeowners will be assessed $130, $160 or $180 a month, depending on the square footage of their homes. That's on top of a $180 monthly maintenance fee, and the residents are hopping mad.

They're so mad that they're planning to recall the current board of the homeowners association by Tuesday, even though that board has only been in place since February.

The association will also likely face legal action. Attorney James Roen is partnering with the law firm of Colson Hicks Eidson to file a class-action lawsuit against the association and its management company on behalf of the residents.

Among the allegations: negligence and breach of contract.

Roen says if the association had maintained the buildings properly, they wouldn't be in such bad shape and it wouldn't cost so much to fix them.

''They haven't been properly maintained for at least the last four or five years,'' Roen said. ``Water has been able to seep inside the balconies and other areas because they were not properly sealed, and the wood is rotted as a result of that.''

Roen, who has hired an independent engineering firm to study the buildings, said the association has taken a ''head in the sand'' approach to the problems by not doing anything sooner.

He's hoping the lawsuit will give half or all of the $3 million back to the homeowners from insurance funds.

But Chavez says there was nothing the association could do. Chavez, who has lived in Dadeland Cove for the past 13 years and has been president of the association, says the association was fixing leaks as they happened, but finally realized there was a pattern when so many homes were having the same problem.

The association hired an engineering firm in January 2001 to look at the problems, but that firm eventually bowed out, saying the problems were too big for it to handle, Chavez said.

Then the association hired Pistorino & Alam Consulting Engineers at the end of 2001. They completed their study in mid-2002, and found that the leaks were a result of shoddy construction.

''The problems that we have found have nothing to do with the maintenance. The developer didn't do a good job and got away with it,'' said Nasir M. Alam, a principal with the firm. ``He used the wrong materials and the wrong systems. They were not suitable for South Florida, and these poor people are really stuck.''

The developer has proven to be elusive. Some said his name is Daniel Perez; Chavez says his last name was Perez, but he isn't sure of the first name. Others say there was more than one developer.

In any case, the developer went bankrupt, leaving Dadeland Cove with unfinished buildings and huge debt, Chavez said.

''He was nowhere to be found and he left nothing behind for us to tap into,'' she said. ``The lawsuit should be against the developer.''

The association is still reeling from a settlement it recently paid to four residents who may have had the worst construction problems of all in Dadeland Cove.

Their four-unit building, it was found, was built on a pile of construction debris and it began to tilt forward, causing huge cracks to form, walls to curve and staircases to buckle.

Judi Levenshon was one of those four homeowners, and she hasn't lived in her townhouse since January 2002, when the county declared it unsafe.

She rented an apartment nearby and hired Roen to help her get her home rebuilt.

Levenshon and her three neighbors have settled for $450,000, part of which is coming from the Dadeland Cove Homeowners Association, and another part from an insurance settlement with Lloyd's of London.

The money will be enough to rebuild the four townhouses properly -- but Levenshon isn't sure she's ever coming back.

She said she's upset about the current problems and still disappointed over the association's response when her home began to fail.

''I would love to be able to hold onto it because Dadeland is just a hop away, but it really leaves a bad taste in your mouth what goes on with these associations,'' she said.