New hope for evacuated condo owners

Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald


Posted October16, 2005


Unit owners in the troubled Castle Beach condominium, which was evacuated months ago because of code violations, could regain control of their building after a judge ordered accelerated elections.

A judge's ruling has paved the way for accelerated condominium board elections at the troubled Castle Beach condominium, which was evacuated in April for life-safety code violations.

A court-appointed receiver has controlled the building, located at 5445 Collins Ave., since it was shut down. Many unit owners are unhappy with the receiver's management and asked Miami-Dade County Circuit court Judge Marc Schumacher to remove him immediately and replace him with a five-member board chosen by the disaffected owners.

Instead, on Oct. 6, Schumacher opted to schedule elections within 30 days to elect a new board.

''I'm pleased the judge is finally listening to unit owners, though I'm disappointed in the delay of 30 days for elections,'' said attorney Joseph Ganguzza, who said he is representing more than 200 of the unit owners. "We have individuals who are interested, committed and qualified to serve on the board of directors who have a greater stake in turning this around than the receiver does.''

The problems at the 573-unit condominium building, located at 5445 Collins Ave., began in 2003, when one of the owners of the ground-floor theater sued the condominium board, accusing the members of not properly maintaining the theater's roof. A judge in the case appointed the receiver, Robert Stone, initially giving him power only over the building's finances.

When the building was evacuated after the city gave repeated notice of code violations that were not fixed, the judge took power away from the board and gave complete control of the building to Stone, an accountant.

Three of the five members of the board of directors collectively own 125 of the units.

One of the two engineers hired by Stone, John Pistorino, estimated that it would take $25 million to bring the building up to code because of the long list of violations, both life-safety and otherwise. In discussions with the city, a second engineer working for Stone, Reymundo Miranda, has worked out a plan to do the minimum amount of repairs necessary to get residents back into the building. His estimate for that first repair phase: four weeks and $4 million.

But because of the building's financial straits and the fact that it has been declared unsafe by the city, it has been impossible to get loans to finance the repairs.

Stone did not return calls seeking comment.

Since the evacuation, hundreds of unit owners at the building have struggled to keep up with maintenance fees, mortgage payments, and special building assessments in addition to rent payments on an alternate place to live. Many are at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure.

''I've worked all my life to have an apartment on the beach, and now I face losing it,'' said Frank Loureda, a unit owner. "It's not believable that this would happen, not in the United States.''

Ganguzza said his clients were pursuing different avenues to regain control of the building. ''We are proceeding on a couple of different fronts to make sure, that one way or the other we have unit owners running the show at Castle Beach Club,'' he said.

Ganguzza's clients are also working on a recall election that would remove the old board and replace them with the five candidates they presented to Schumacher. So far, they have 359 recall votes, including the 125 from the suspended board members.

''If we get a good board through the election, we will withdraw the recall,'' Ganguzza said.

Not all of the unit owners believe a new board, either through recall or election, will help the building's problems.

''We don't think that having a new board will change circumstances to open the building any quicker,'' said Elizabeth Martialay, a unit owner and lawyer at a law firm that represents several unit owners. "Nobody has answered how it's going to help.''