The tenants of the Miami Beach apartment owned by the Mayor of Surfside
Faced with criticism over his management of an apartment building with a few crumbling balconies and an awkward elevator, the mayor of the city where the South Champlain Towers fell ordered tenants at his Miami Beach complex to vacate the premises to make way for repairs, and declared their leases are “terminated.”
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett, in an email Thursday night to tenants at Lois Apartments on the Isle of Normandy, ordered residents to leave within the next 45 days so “a tremendous amount of work” can be done. be carried out on the structure, which was battered by the hurricane. Irma in 2017.
“We regret that this work is creating potentially dangerous conditions for residents,” Burkett wrote in the “Lease Termination” email.
The 2001 Bay Dr. building had lingering problems for years and was hit with a “dangerous structures” violation by the Miami Beach Construction Department after a tree fell and damaged four of its balconies during the hurricane four years ago.
The balconies have never been repaired. The railings of a balcony are tied with rope. In the balcony one floor higher, more than half of the balustrade has disappeared.
Last month, some tenants made their complaints public on social media, the Miami Herald and other news outlets. Now it looks like they’re out.
In the email to residents, Burkett said the elevator will be repaired and the building will undergo a 40-year inspection, which will be completed a year earlier. The work will take 60 to 90 days and the rent and unused security deposits will be refunded, Burkett wrote.
“This work will make it untenable [sic] to continue to have tenants living in the building while the work is in progress, ”he wrote.
Tenants stressed about the future
Burkett said the situation was “very unfortunate” for him and the residents, but he made the decision to leave the building for safety reasons. The elevator was being repaired on Friday afternoon, so those who move will not have to carry their belongings up the stairs, he said.
Burkett said when the work is complete he will be happy to welcome back what he called the “good tenants”.
Ramiro Picos, who lives on the fourth floor of the Lois Apartments, said Burkett’s explanation was “nonsense.”
The building is in poor condition, says Picos. But his balcony is not broken and he said workers would have plenty of room to do their jobs while still letting people stay in the building.
“I don’t think I’ll be in danger,” he said.
Picos, 31, said he was unsure whether tenants would be allowed to return to the building. But after he and others go public with their criticisms of the upkeep of the building, it’s not sure that Burkett would even want him to return.
“I have to find a new place,” he said.
Picos was also concerned about whether he would be able to move his things: A resident who spoke to the Miami Herald at 4:45 p.m. Friday said the elevator was not yet operational.
A third tenant, Janna Clasman, 38, is a single mother who moved into the Lois apartments in March. She said her 5-year-old daughter had just started school across the street from her new home and couldn’t afford places nearby given high demand and rising rents in the Miami area. .
“It couldn’t have happened at a worse time,” she said, noting that her apartment hadn’t had any issues other than a few unwanted pests. “I think they just want us to get out of the way. Then he can raise the rent when all is said and done.
Clasman also expressed concern for his neighbors, one of whom is elderly and the other has a disabled son.
Burkett and Miami Beach at odds over permits and plans
The building’s problems, which have been going on for about four years, gained attention last month when a neighboring resident complained about the situation on social media. Miami Beach has posted a “final notice” to the building and ordered that safety nets be placed under balconies to catch falling debris.
Burkett’s real estate firm, Burkett Companies, has owned the building since 1990. He said delays in the city’s licensing process – and the challenges of hiring and retaining contractors after the hurricane, and later during COVID – blocked the planned demolition and replacement of balconies.
In 2019, Miami Beach expressed dissatisfaction with the pace of work on repairs related to the storm. Miami Beach spokeswoman Melissa Berthier said that after “no action was taken by the property to make the necessary repairs,” the building department referred the issue in 2019 to the special master, who required regular progress reports.
Burkett said the claim that he had taken no action was false. He applied for a master permit in 2018 to remove and replace the damaged balconies. His plans called for a change in the design of the balconies, which required appearing before the Miami Beach Design Review Board. The council approved the plans and the city then issued the master permit. But two more permits were still needed – one for the new railings and one for the sliding glass doors, Berthier said. A contractor applied for the new permits last April, and the permit for the railing was issued in May.
In April, Burkett’s contractor also requested a review of the master permit. The city said on Friday that the contractor had yet to submit the required plans for the overhaul, which would affect the balconies.
Burkett accused the city of losing copies of the plans he said he submitted, calling the city’s statements to the Miami Herald “fabrication.” He told building officials in an email on Friday that he would resubmit the plans.
Friday’s email exchange intensified, as Burkett repeatedly criticized Miami Beach building manager Ana Salgueiro for telling the Miami Herald that Burkett had not submitted plans to secure the location. approval of the work of the balcony.
“Tell the newspaper that the schizophrenic Herald statement from your office that we can’t start working without a license, and in the same article, which we could have started working long ago to demolish balconies, was a PERFECT example of the horrible communication systems you have in place, ”he wrote.
When asked for an update on the permits for the balcony work on Friday, Berthier told the Herald that “they have a permit review for the balconies which was requested in April, but no plan has been made. been submitted for review as of the date of this email “.
Herald writer Martin Vassolo contributed to this report