Century Village owners wait, worry

Investor tells elderly owners he will buy condos, force them out.

Article Courtesy of The Palm Beach Post

By Tony Doris

Published June 16, 2015


Nancy Salmi moved to Century Village in suburban West Palm from California’s high desert in 2004 to be near her son and grandchildren, who live in Wellington.

In the sprawling, 55-and-older community of two-story condos, Salmi, who uses a walker, found a ground-floor unit condo for $35,000. The 71-year-old with shoulder-length gray hair and a sunny disposition still loves the 615-square-foot, one-bedroom unit in the Sheffield O building.
But now she lives under a cloud. An investor has snapped up most of the building and wants to force the other owners out.

“I am in the process of taking steps to dissolve the Association of Sheffield O whereby all of the apartments that I do not own would be forced to sell to me at the Palm Beach County Appraisers value,” Donald T. Kelly, wrote to Sal-mi on March 2.
Whether he can do so is not clear, said Dave Israel, president of United Civic Organization, the coordinating authority for Century Village’s 309 property owners associations. What is clear, Israel says: The entire community is in a panic over whether what happens at Sheffield O could topple other buildings like dominoes.

“These are elderly people, and they’re scared to death,” he said.
Kelly has not revealed his plans for Sheffield O or other buildings where he has been accumulating condos for the past four years. The Palm Beach Gardens resident said that on the advice of his lawyer, he would not talk. The word in the community at various times has been that he might turn the building into an assisted-living facility or a rehab center or just rent out the condos. Residents say he already rents some units to people directed there by a nonprofit that helps the homeless transition into housing.
According to Israel, Florida law allows investors who own 80 percent of a building’s condos to force the remaining 20 percent to sell. By his count, Kelly owns 15 units of the building’s 26 condos, some under the name of trusts he controls and has the power of attorney over two others.
“That gives you control of 17,” Israel said. “The magic number to dissolve a condominium association to buy out the rest under the current statute is 80 percent, “which would require him to own 21 condos.

Kelly already is president of the Sheffield O Condominium Association.

“Clearly he controls the building,” Israel said.
But not so fast, Israel added. Kelly would never get permission to dissolve the association from the corporations that hold the long-term lease for Century Village and manage the property , Benenson Capital and Cenvill Recreation, Israel said. “That’s a major ox he’s trying to gore.”
In Israel’s view, the problem lies not just with Kelly’s real estate speculation but with speculation of another kind, in blogs and newsletters stirring fear in card rooms throughout the community. That talk alone can scare away potential buyers and drive down property values, he said.

But Neil Moore, one newsletter distributor, said failing to air the issue also is a danger.

“Everyone in the village is really upset,” he said.
As for fear of buildings filling with homeless people, Ezra Kreig, program director of the Senator Philip D. Lewis Center in West Palm Beach, acknowledged that the center helped some formerly homeless people respond to rental ads for Century Village condos. The center’s job is to help people who have been homeless find places to live throughout Palm Beach County, he said.
The center doesn’t place people, he noted. The people reply to ads, sign rental agreements with landlords and gain homeowners association approval, Kreig said. “These were homeless people. They might have been veterans. Come on,” he said.
“Their beef is with that guy,” he added, referring to Kelly. “Their beef isn’t with us. ... Here’s a larger thing: People need to understand that just because someone is labeled ‘homeless’ doesn’t make them a bad neighbor.... It’s not Lewis Center sending 9 million people to overrun a building. It’s not happening.”

For Salmi, the main issue is the prospect of being forced out.

Financially she’s stuck.
Even if she wanted to leave, she owes $20,000 on a condo the property appraiser says is worth $13,260. Even if she wanted to sell, she asked, who would give her a good price, considering what’s going on in the building?
She also has a legal history with Kelly, who sued her three times when she was on the condo board a few years ago. And though each suit was denied or dismissed, she said she doesn’t have the money to hire a lawyer to defend another battle.
“It’s really stressful,” Salmi said Thursday. “I didn’t move to Florida to go through this. I wanted to enjoy things and be with my family.”
Nancy Salmi moved to Century Village from California and worries about what will happen next.