Miami Court Bars Citizens Insurance Claim by Owner of Rented Condo

Citizens Property Insurance defeated an owner's claim for damage from a water leak at a rented Miami condo.

Article Courtesy of  The Daily Business Review


Published July 12, 2019

A state appellate court, affirming a trial court decision, ruled the owner of a Miami condominium unit damaged by a water leak was not entitled to recover because he was living in New York and renting the condo to tenants.

The Case

Donato Arguelles lived at his Miami condo for approximately 10 months before moving in December 2013 to New York to work as a private wealth manager. He leased a succession of apartments in New York.

In January 2014, Arguelles began renting his Florida condo to two tenants. In February 2016, one of the tenants contacted Arguelles to report a plumbing leak in the kitchen.

Arguelles arranged for a plumber and water mitigation company to make repairs. He also contacted Citizens Property Insurance Corp. under his homeowners’ insurance policy to report the loss.

Citizens conducted a post-loss investigation, learned Arguelles no longer resided in the condo and denied coverage.

Arguelles sued Citizens. The insurer moved for summary judgment, contending its policy’s residency requirement precluded coverage. Arguelles argued he was entitled to coverage for his loss because the policy covered property that was “your insurance responsibility under a corporation or association of property owners agreement.”

The trial court granted summary judgment to Citizens, and Arguelles appealed. He argued the policy language did not require him to actually reside in the condo to be covered for the loss.

The Policy

The Citizens policy provided coverage for “the alterations, appliances, fixtures and improvements which are part of the building contained within the ‘residence premises’ ” and “ items of real property which pertain exclusively to the ‘residence premises.’ ”

The policy defined residence premises as the “ unit where you reside shown as the ‘Location of Residence Premises’ in the declarations.”

The Decision

The appellate court affirmed, finding the policy language was “clear and unambiguous.” The court ruled the policy extended dwelling coverage to the “residence premises,” unequivocally defined within the policy as the “unit where you reside.”

The appellate court acknowledged the term “reside” was undefined in the policy but said it had two definitions: “to live in a place permanently or for an extended period of time.” It then declared that because Arguelles was living in New York at the time of the loss and his Miami condo was solely occupied by his two tenants, he was not entitled to coverage under either definition.

Accordingly, it concluded the trial court properly granted final summary judgment to Citizens.

The case is Arguelles v. Citizens Property Insurance, No. 3D17-2021 (Fla. Ct. App. July 3). Attorneys involved include: Timothy H. Crutchfield, Mintz Truppman, for appellant/cross-appellee; David C. Borucke, Cole, Scott & Kissane, for appellee/cross-appellant.