Condo resident helps keep water on, neighbors in homes

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

By Stephen Feller

Published January 10, 2010


Mely Toro moved to South Florida from Boston in 1997 to study mortuary science at Lynn University Bachelor's, master's & online degrees in Boca Raton. She did not, however, think that she'd be working to keep a condominium complex alive 10 years later.

Toro has spent the last several months working with several of her fellow owners at the Atlantic Palms complex in Margate to keep the community's water on, garbage picked up and fire alarms working. The situation at Atlantic Palms came to a head in August as the community was in the process of building up an $18,000 debt to the city for essential services and facing the danger of shut-off, in addition to possible evictions over foreclosures. 

Toro selected one of the condos at Atlantic Palms as the first home she bought because it's a good midpoint between her mother's house in Coral Springs and her office in Lauderhill, where she often works 10-hour days as a mortician. Nearly a year into living in the complex she said she knew something was wrong when she came home to find sewage backed up in her bathtub. The developer told her the problem would exist "forever" and there was nothing that could be done to fix it, she said.

Buyers in the condo complex were "sold a good dream," Toro said, about the property's developer who told buyers they wouldn't have pay maintenance for a period of time after they closed on their condo. Once the deals were done, though, nothing was taken care of, she said.

The property manager for the complex neglected it, in addition to not collecting money or making payments to the city, Toro said. As bills and problems piled up, board members resigned and stopped showing up. Eventually, Toro, who had run for the board but lost, was appointed to it to replace someone who had resigned.

"I always knew I wanted to be part of the community and be involved," she said, adding that she didn't expect things there to work out the way they have so far.

Yolanda Rodriguez, assistant city manager in Margate, said Toro is unlike most residents who come to the city for help, though, as she didn't just ask for help and wait to see what she'd get.

"She stepped up to the plate," Rodriguez said. "When everybody was abandoning ship, she didn't. People usually just look out for themselves but she wasn't. That's pretty rare."

Toro has continued to attempt to collect money from residents for maintenance and other payments, recently opening a bank account in the name of the community. She said she posts everything for everybody to see and knocks on doors to let people know what's going on, though she's not sure how much success will actually come of it.

Despite this, she said she'll keep trying to get the community together to fix the issues that have grown there in the last couple years.

"Nobody was standing up," Toro said, "so I figured I would. This is my home. I just want my home."