Article Courtesy of The Pelican
By Judy Wilson
Published November 2, 2009
Four years after a fire in Century Village East, or CVE, destroyed 10 units in a garden apartment, the only hope residents have of ever going
home again rests with lawsuits that charge COOCVE, Master Management and Comcast Communications with gross negligence and fraud.
The lawsuits have divided the residents of Ventnor Band made Faye Adam and Ross Gilson, leaders in the fight to reclaim the apartments,
outcasts in the Village.
Adam, 79, has moved.
11 times since the fire, taken in by sympathetic friends. Gilson's unit was destroyed, and he has bought elsewhere in CVE. Some unit owners,
still obligated to pay maintenance fees, mortgages, etc, are facing foreclosure. Some have moved away. Others have been taken in by family.
One is in indigent care. "There was a long stretch of avoidance of responsibility by institutions that are suppose to protect us," Gilson said.
It started when an old ceiling fan caught fire in a Ventnor B apartment.
|The flames raced through the crawl space and through holes in the firewall destroying half the homes in the building. The holes were made by
workers installing cable for Adelphia Communications Company. "They were big enough to walk through," Adam said. Fire experts say the holes
are worse than having no firewalls at all because they create a back draft that channels smoke and flames.
Although no lives were lost, things got worse for Ventnor B residents.
They discovered their building was underinsured and could not possibly be rehabbed for the
$173,359 offered by the insurance company.
Attorney Joe Garrity who is filing the lawsuits on behalf of the Ventnor B Homeowners Association said, "The condo documents say the buildings
are to be insured for 100 percent of replacement value."
years ago, a fire gutted this apartment building in Century Village
in Deerfield Beach. Occupants are still waiting for the day they can
return home. But lawsuits and insurance problems may delay their
return for years to come.
According Gilson, the appraisals were 40 to 50 percent below actual value and were made by someone who has since lost his license to work in
Florida. Just this week, the building was appraised for $1.5 million.
"In those days contracts were handed to whomever " 'Trinchi' wanted," Gilson said. 'Trinchi' was Amadeo Trinchitello, for years Broward's
political power broker who could elect an American president. During the height of his influence, Bill and Hillary Clinton campaigned twice in
For decades he controlled both COOCVE and Master Management and negotiated bulk contracts. During the last years of his life he
represented the Village on the Deerfield Beach City Commission.
Plasteridge Insurance Agency is also being sued for its part in the scenario. "It was their obligation to provide adequate insurance," Garrity said.
Adam is president of Ventnor B Homeowners Association and Gilson is the secretary.
Both have worked tirelessly to resolve the problems created by what they call "gross
negligence" and "fraud concealment."
"This case really bothers me," Garrity said, "Because Condominium Owners Organization of Century Village East, or COOCVE, has a for-profit
arm, the CVE Reporter which controls information, prints misinformation and bad information, and does it deliberately."
As an example, he produces a story that ran in the October 2005 Reporter that claimed management had "fixed these problems whether they
were caused by Adelphia or not. When there were no further problems, we closed it off." Adelphia declared bankruptcy in 2002 and was
purchased in 2006 by Comcast and Time Warner. Just this week Adelphia announced it had emerged from bankruptcy. Although Comcast did
not contract the faulty work at Ventnor B, they remain responsible for their customers' safety, Garrity said.
Today, there are gaps in firewalls in a multitude of CVE buildings. Many of those building associations have joined Ventnor B in their action
against Comcast and COOCVE because the faulty firewalls present another problem. A new state law requires fire alarm systems in condo
buildings be updated. In those with damaged firewalls, Deerfield building inspectors will not okay the alarm installations until the walls are
repaired. The city has given the condo associations until the end of the year to get their alarms inspected and approved.
Through shear persistence, Adam and her homeowners association have succeeded in partially repairing their building, but now they have run
out of money.
The cost of construction has soared because stricter building codes were established after two bad hurricane seasons. "The city came
along and required everything rebuilt up to code, including exterior walls, plumbing, electric," Adam said.
A door that once cost $425 now costs $1,900. On the positive side, when the units are made habitable, they will be the best built apartments in
the Village, likely the only ones up to code in every respect.
Ventnor B has been re-roofed and rewired, but there is no money for interior construction. Estimates are it will take $500,000 to bring the
building to where the owners can take over. "To do an assessment on people with limited income would be an atrocity," Adam said.
The irony of the situation is that when Wilma hit three months later emergency funds were made available for home repairs. Because Ventnor B's
emergency is not storm-related, no such funding exists.
Adam acknowledges that no board member of COOCVE or Master Management was in place when the negligence occurred. But, she said, the
corporation has a debt to pay.
In her quest to make her neighbors whole again, Adam has enlisted the help of Sen. Ted Deutch, Congr. Robert Wexler, and Vice President Joe
Biden. Her local representatives have responded and Deutch is working with the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association, or FIGA, to release
more money for Ventnor B. FIGA steps in when insurance companies go broke, in this case, Poe Financial, who went into receiverships after
FIGA has written checks to Ventnor B for $184,345 a fraction of the cost of repairs. "Unfortunately, this is the perfect storm. This case becomes
more and more complicated, and as I investigate, more and more people are liable," Garrity said.
The lawsuits contain additional counts including breach of contract, violation of the city code, breach of fiduciary duty and unfair trade practices.
"I am angry, but I will use my anger to get where we need to be," Adam said.
So while she waits for the lawsuits filed in Broward's 17th Circuit Court to navigate the legal system, Adam has another plan of attack in mind. "I
have a contact for film maker Michael Moore,"
She said this week. “And I plan on writing Oprah.”