Older Condo Residents Impacted by Stricter Rules

After the condo collapse in Surfside, officials increased oversight of older condos with safety issues. In Miami-Dade that included evictions pending improvements.

MIAMI – Virginia Ponce hasn’t been able to return to her fourth-floor condo in Flagami since leaving her home of 21 years in August under a city-ordered evacuation, after inspectors determined the eight-story tower was unsafe due to damaged columns.

Ponce, 77, moved in with her daughter in southwest Miami-Dade. Months later, she’s hoping an overhaul of the condo association’s leadership and a fundraising campaign might help bring residents closer to moving back into their homes.

“If you could imagine, I feel destroyed,” she said Thursday. “Every time I think about it, it feels less and less likely.”

Those who evacuated the 49-year-old building at 5050 NW Seventh St. hope a GoFundMe campaign can help pay for what is expected to be hundreds of thousands of dollars in repair work necessary for the building to clear inspections so that residents can move back in.

Ponce still has to pay a mortgage and condo fees for her unoccupied unit, expenses that she says are already tough on a monthly Social Security check of about $850. There are several other residents like her who are not sure how they would handle an assessment to pay for the fixes. The work could cost an estimated $250,000, according to the GoFundMe page.

“Some people don’t have the money to pay the assessment,” said Juliana Pavageau, a condo owner.

Condo owners ousted the previous board of the homeowners association in January. New board president Denise Perez said the previous board had looked at one contractor’s proposal to make the repairs for $800,000. The new board acknowledges it will be a six-figure sum, but they’re weighing other proposals. The repair work is expected to lead to an assessment for a community with many older, retired owners.

“Our community is mostly elderly. They live off of Social Security,” Perez said. “There’s no way they can afford to do all those repairs.”

Owners are also locked in a lawsuit against the building’s previous management. A group of owners have accused the previous board of neglecting to maintain the building, which is eight years behind on its 40-year recertification. The suit is pending in Miami-Dade circuit court.

The condo tower was one of many buildings inspected in the weeks following the collapse of Champlain Towers South in Surfside, a disaster that killed 98 people and sparked a rush of building inspections across Miami-Dade County. When city officials told the Flagami’s building management that multiple columns on the first floor needed to be shored up, contractors began unpermitted work that city officials say made matters worse.

Officials ordered the building’s evacuation immediately, and since then, people have been allowed to retrieve belongings only by appointment, with city building officials monitoring and only allowing a few people in at a time. Residents say conditions have worsened inside, with leaks, broken elevators and mold.

Among the displaced was Gus Fagundo, who evacuated that night with his pregnant wife and toddler. The situation pushed the family to make a move they’d been considering out to Coral Springs, where they are now living in a home they bought. Anywhere closer was far out of their budget.

Fagundo said he hopes the new board can help resolve the building’s issues, and he’s grateful his household can withstand the financial strain.

“We’re still paying the mortgage and the association fees, along with a brand new mortgage here,” he said on Thursday. “It’s not drowning us, but we certainly can’t take our Disney trip this year. “

© 2022 Miami Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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