and Video Courtesy of Channel 10 News Miami
June 20, 2015
The dream of living on the ocean is alive and well in
"It was my dream to live on the beach in beautiful Florida," said Yelena
Kazakova, who owns a unit in the Aquarius condo there. "The sun, the
ocean, just every day you wake up and you see this beauty and it lifts
up your spirit."
But Kazakova, a physician’s
assistant, reality crashed in, quite literally. Last
summer, for instance, the ceiling over the once pristine
lobby caved in during a flood and it remains a mess. The
gym has suffered a similar fate, with gutted ceilings
and walls. The Aquarius board of directors – which has
been a veritable game of musical chairs during recent
years -- says the entire foundation of the building is
"There has been nothing but chaos," said Kazakova’s neighbor, Paul
Mangiamele, a part-time resident who happens to own the Bennigan’s
restaurant chain. "Chaos in the sense of construction projects that
never seem to finish. We can’t use the pool. We can’t use the lobby. We
can’t use the west pool. We can’t use the fitness center."
In all roughly $6 million has been
spent on the building during the past five years or so.
About $4 million of that came from Donald Trump, who
agreed to pay that amount to Aquarius when he built the
Trump Hollywood high-rise next door.
"We were assured because of the Trump property next to
us and the amount of money paid to the Aquarius units
that assessments would never occur for the lifetime of
our stay here," said Mangiamele. "It gets to be
suspicious when it’s now assessment after assessment."
He is talking about a recent $1.7 million assessment
that has apparently been spent and a recently passed new assessment of
$4 million, or about $15,000 average per unit, bringing the grand total
including the Trump money to about $10 million. Further irking unit
owners, the $4 million hasn’t been contracted yet, making some unit
owners to feel as if it’s just another blank check for a board that has
wildly mismanaged the two Aquarius buildings for years.
"Where’s the detail? When are the projects going to be completed?" asked
Mangiamele. "Just common sense questions. Just show us where the money
is going. We have no problem helping to make this the jewel that it
should be but just give us answers."
When asked about the residents’ concerns and all that money spent,
Aquarius property manager Andrew Surdovel quickly pinpointed what he
said was the real problem.
"Mismanagement of money, that’s all I can say," said Surdovel.
He can say that since he only took over the management of the condo in
November. He said a recent audit uncovered bookkeeping problems that are
now under further investigation.
"There has been some irregularities and they are looking at it right
now," he said.
Examples of the mismanagement aren’t hard to find. A renovation of one
of the condo’s pool deck’s was supposed to cost $1.5 million, but the
actual cost has already ballooned to to $2.1 million, eating up the
previous assessment and with no end in sight of the rising costs.
"They really didn’t do their estimates correctly, they just shot from
the hip," says Surdovel.
And the lobby? It flooded after the board failed to waterproof the
construction job above it, says current Board Vice President Joel Cohen.
Then there’s a project that began when the board decided to move a small
bathroom on the pool deck. The cost has gone out of control.
"It’s a $125,000 toilet," said Cohen.
Yet Cohen and the board are forging ahead with more construction, with
the board voting to hit the 269 unit owners there with the new $4
million assessment. Part of that job is concrete restoration which
requires that that pavers at the building’s entrance be destroyed.
Residents are upset this too is setting up to be a disaster as the board
has no contracts in place for the $4 million, only a $2 million "change
order" from the construction company that is working on the west deck.
A group of residents formed a human chain in April to try to stop that
work and were successful when it was learned there was no current permit
to do the work. But the respite was short-lived and the destruction in
May, leaving residents to hope it’s not another costly debacle that will
end with more demands on their own checkbooks.
"My dream of living on the ocean," said Kazakova, "is getting