Miami-Dade water department turns off condo's water

Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald


Published April 17, 2009 


The county water department shut off the water at Mirassou Condominium in Northwest Miami-Dade, leaving hundreds of residents high and dry. The reason: the complex can't cover the water bill because of foreclosures.

The cash shortage plaguing South Florida's foreclosure-ridden condominiums reached a crisis at the Mirassou Condominium in Northwest Miami-Dade after the county shut off water to residents because the association failed to pay its water bill.

Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department said Thursday that it turned off the water to the 310-unit building after the condo association failed to abide by three separate repayment plans over the last nine months. The association has an outstanding balance of $109,000, the department said.

''We've bent over backward to try to help them out,'' said Frank Calderon, a spokesman for the department. "It's not fair to other rate-payers when somebody owes that kind of amount. They end up footing the bill.''

As budget problems continue to worsen for many South Florida condo associations, the Mirassou's fate underscores the severe consequences communities face when too many unit owners enter foreclosure and stop paying association fees. Those fees, charged to all unit owners, pay for common expenses on everything from pest control to property insurance, water, pool service and garbage collection.

At the Mirassou, roughly a third of the units are bank-owned or in foreclosure. Calderon said the county finally turned off the water as a last resort on Tuesday, but residents allegedly tampered with the meter to keep it running illegally another day. County employees visiting the property at 6175 NW 186th St. discovered the vandalism Wednesday and removed the meters.

Meanwhile, the county dispatched a team from the health department to instruct residents about maintaining healthy practices, including how to get by with unflushable toilets.

Edward Acle, a Miami attorney who is assisting the condo's management company in resolving the matter, said employees from the company as well as unit owners met with Miami-Dade County Commissioner Barbara Jordan Thursday to see what could be done. The Mirassou is in her district.

''People have been talking about the day when this would come and that day is here,'' Acle said, referring to predictions that condos would face serious operational issues because of high foreclosure rates. "South Florida is the point of the spear in this crisis.''

Calderon said this was the first time in recent memory the county had to shut the water off to a complex as large as Mirassou. The water department said it is still willing to work with the association, which earlier this month bounced a check for $42,335.50.

While the association was able to come up with $16,000 Thursday, Calderon said it needed to make a minimum payment of $31,626 to get water restored.

''This is a terrible situation,'' said Jordan.

Meanwhile, Mirassou residents are forced to buy drinking water and shower at the homes of friends and family. Among them was Hermogenes Abad, 30, who bought a unit there two years ago. He said he was current on his home loan and ahead on his association fees.

''I honestly don't see how they can just cut the water on people who are making payments,'' Abad said.

Abad said he was confident the issue would be resolved, but if not, he would have no choice but to find a way out of his mortgage, since the county building department won't allow residents to occupy a building without water. ''I'm going to have to try to get letters together from people saying this building is uninhabitable,'' he said.