City of Miami’s Building Department officials explain to residents from a 138-unit condo at 5050 NW Seventh St. in Flagami why they were forced to evacuate Aug. 9, 2021, after city officials deemed the building unsafe. By Daniel A. Varela

In a matter of days, columns supporting a 138-unit condo tower in Miami went from being weakened after years of deterioration to being severely compromised, according to city inspectors.

But it wasn’t erosion or a natural disaster that exacerbated the problem at 5050 NW Seventh St., inpectors say. It was human error.

Now, beleaguered residents of the evacuated Flagami condo tower are suing their homeowners association for negligence in maintaining the aged building, including failing to properly handle urgent repairs such as the five damaged columns.

“I think that we feel like Jaelan can do a few different things,” coach Flores said.

The suit also states building management should have addressed the condo’s faults years ago, as required by law. The tower, built in 1973, is eight years behind on making repairs required to obtain a 40-year recertification.

Miami building officials explain to residents why they must evacuate Flagami building.


 

In late July, city officials inspected the Flagami building and identified damaged columns that needed emergency shoring. City administrators say the building’s management started work without submitting plans to the city or securing permits. The inspection was part of a wave of enforcement that followed the collapse of Champlain Towers South in Surfside, a disaster that led cities across Miami-Dade County to look at old buildings.


On the night of Aug. 10, dozens of people were forced to leave their homes after city inspectors saw the unpermitted work. Officials said the work was shoddy and worsened the column’s condition, prompting an order to evacuate and forcing several families to temporarily move into hotel rooms.

Now, four condo owners have filed a class-action lawsuit alleging the homeowners association failed to address the building’s major structural problems and misspent about $84,500 in previous assessments. The 10-page lawsuit was filed Aug. 25 in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.

“Instead of complying with the code and conducting a 40-year recertification through a qualified engineer and making necessary repairs, the association did little or nothing,” reads the lawsuit. “It totally failed to obtain the required 40-year recertification and ensure that the building’s structural integrity was safe.”

On Wednesday, the attorney representing the residents, Hoss Hernandez, criticized the board’s treatment of people living in the building in a statement to the Miami Herald.

“Associations are usually are not the best to deal with, but these people are below the norm as far as their treatment of the owners and the renters,” Hernandez said.

An attorney who represents the condo association did not respond to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, displaced owners and tenants have either had to stay at the Hampton Inn near Miami International Airport or find other places to stay. Beginning this week, residents will be able to make appointments to enter their units, two people at a time for up to 30 minutes, to retrieve medicines, throw out rotting food and grab other essential items.

City officials said residents will not be able to move furniture or appliances out of the building, and they expect to accommodate 54 appointments per week.

Cristian, the grandson of an elderly resident, carries personal items as all residents from a 138-unit condo at 5050 NW Seventh St. in Flagami were forced to evacuate Aug. 9, 2021, after city officials deemed the building unsafe. Daniel A. Varela dvarela@miamiherald.com

Gustavo Fugando, 44, and his pregnant wife and toddler have temporarily moved into a friend’s unoccupied townhouse in Pembroke Pines. They’re sleeping on an inflatable air mattress and sitting on inflatable recliners.

“My wife is giving birth on Thanksgiving,” he said. “We already bought Christmas gifts for everyone. They’re sitting in our closet.”

Some residents who returned to the building Wednesday saw their door handles on the floor. Following the evacuation, city staffers busted through the doors of multiple units to make sure no one had stayed behind and hidden in their apartments. On Wednesday, a spokesman said the city is hiring locksmiths to replace damaged locks.

In a contentious Zoom call Tuesday night, the condo association board approved a $200,000 special assessment that will cost owners between $961 and $2,200, depending on the type of unit. Before the vote, several people expressed their frustrations with the board over the 40-year recertification issue and demanded more specifics with how the new assessment would be spent.

Board members said the money would cover emergency repairs and shoring required to allow people to move back into their units, and some initial costs to prepare plans for the 40-year recertification process. After muting angry residents, a majority of the board approved the assessments. The initial payments are due Sept. 15. The second payments are due on Oct. 15.

Connie Lee, 33, has lived with her boyfriend in the building since 2017. After Tuesday night’s vote, she said she understands her neighbors’ frustrations, particularly because not everyone can easily afford immediate assessments. But the emergency situation has put residents in a tough spot.

“From the logistical perspective, I know why we are where we are,” she said.

Lee added that the city bears some responsibility for not enforcing the law on the 40-year recertification.