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
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