Could Killings in Luxury Miami Condo Mean Legal Headache for Paraiso Bay?

Attorneys weigh in on the possible legal consequences after two women's bodies were found in the luxury tower in Miami's Edgewater neighborhood.

Article Courtesy of  The Daily Business Review

By Lidia Dinkova

Published May 16, 2019

News of the slaying of two women at a luxury Miami condominium building shook Paraiso Bay residents and may trigger a negligent-security lawsuit.

The women’s families could have a case against the condo association, Miami attorney Jason Kellogg said.

The killings also highlight a controversial state law that says real estate brokers and home sellers don’t have to disclose to a buyer if there was a murder in a home, another attorney, Andrew Blasi, said. The law protects brokers and sellers from follow-up lawsuits.

Miami police found the bodies of Sophia Simpson, 35, and Gabrella Griffith, 27, in a 34th-story unit in the building at 650 NE 32nd St. on May 7, according to an arrest affidavit. Police said Franklyn Williams, 46, confessed to stabbing both women May 2. Williams, who said he was a boyfriend of one of the victims and lived in the unit, confessed to first stabbing his girlfriend and then the other woman when she came into the master bedroom.

“It’s very, very unfortunate and very tragic,” said Blasi, a shareholder with Shapiro, Blasi, Wasserman & Hermann in Boca Raton.

Kellogg, a partner at Levine Kellogg Lehman Schneider + Grossman, said whether the association is sued largely depends on any history with Williams, such as whether it knew of any past indications that he was aggressive or violent.

“An attorney representing the victim’s estate, I think, could investigate and potentially find a negligence claim against the association for failing to discover that this person was violent,” he said.

Whether Williams’ name was on the lease or not wouldn’t matter. If there were past incidents and he was a co-signer on the lease, the association could have taken steps to evict him. If he wasn’t on the lease, the association could have asked the women to not allow him to stay, Kellogg said.

The attorney for Paraiso Bay Condominium Association Inc., Becker shareholder Michael C. Góngora in Miami, said he has been representing the association since April and declined further comment. A voicemail left with the property manager wasn’t returned.

Kellogg, said any negligence claim against the condo association essentially would be against the residents who control it, who would have to share any damages.

The Related Group, Paraiso Bay’s developer and a prolific real estate company founded by CEO Jorge Pérez, said in an emailed statement that it turned over the building to the unit owners in February.

“The homeowners’ board is solely responsible for the management and security arrangements. The firm has no information on the incident as they are no longer involved,” the statement said.

Related developed the Paraiso complex, four bayfront condominium towers in Miami’s Edgewater neighborhood, and Paraiso Bay opened last year.

Controversial Law

A state law states brokers and sellers don’t have to tell buyers if there was a homicide or a suicide at a property, Blasi said. The law also protects them from being sued for not disclosing this information to buyers before closing.

“There’s basically been a lot of controversy over the statute,” Blasi said.

The issue stems from buyers finding out about a home’s horrific history after closing, which could eventually impact them financially and emotionally, he said.

For one, the buyer paid market value for the home, but if the property’s history becomes public later, it may not get market value on resale.

“Beyond the dollars, some people depending on religious beliefs or depending on their emotional nature are very, very personally affected or traumatized by” the knowledge there was a death, Blasi said. “You find yourself having made a major investment to own a piece of property only to discover that somebody gruesomely killed themselves in that property a few months earlier. Now you are buying the property knowing nothing about it, and now you are living there in a very questionable emotional state because it wasn’t disclosed because of the statute.”

The law was passed after a Florida Supreme Court ruling in favor of a buyer who sued the seller of a home alleging property defects, including the roof. The court ruled the sellers have a duty to disclose facts about the property that aren’t easily noticed but affect the property’s value.

This would include a death in the home. But brokers think the emotional effect on buyers is so subjective that they shouldn’t have to disclose deaths, Blasi said.

This means there would be strong pushback from the real estate community if lawmakers decide to revisit the law allowing them not to disclose a death.

“Objectively, there’s no real way of knowing what the impact is. Some people are affected by that. Some people aren’t affected by that,” he said. “I think the Realtor community feels that the effect is so subjective that it should not affect the objective value of the property.”