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Hot condo market results in evictions

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From:Miami Herald

Hot condo market results in evictions

Working-class tenants' days in apartments numbered: A condo is coming.

BY NICHOLAS SPANGLER

[email protected]

The letters appeared one morning in mid-March, slipped into mailboxes at Bayfront Manor, a modest but well-kept apartment complex on Biscayne Bay and 31st Street.

''Please be advised that on April 4, 2005, our company, CG Miami Partners II LLC, will be purchasing the property and apartments where you currently live. As part of our requirements for purchase, your current landlord has included with this letter a statutory notice terminating your oral lease effective at the end of the day on March 31, 2005. While it may seem unfair, Florida law only requires that you be given 15 days notice.'' Sincerely, Greg Altshuler.

CG Miami Partners II is based in New York and is a subsidiary of Brack Capital, a $3 billion real estate and venture capital concern with offices all over the world. CG Miami plans on tearing down Bayfront Manor to make way for a 56-story luxury condominium building called ICE Squared.

Most of the condos are already sold, at prices ranging from $1.6 million to $2.1 million.

Drive along Biscayne Boulevard and you'll find dozens more luxury towers going up -- but ICE Squared will truly be one heck of a building, a ''triumph of architectural sculpture,'' if the developers do say so themselves.

And they do -- in triumphant ads and billboards, triumphant unveiling parties and the greatest, most triumphant media promotion kit ever, eye-wateringly reflective and approximately the size of a car windshield. Inside it shows very thin, busty women in bikinis and heels lounging about huge sun-flooded lofts.

A promotion such as this would have been wasted on the people CG Miami evicted from Bayfront Manor last week.

They aren't remotely rich enough.

FIRST HOME

Mackenzie Orchard, for instance. He sets up trade shows at the Miami Beach Convention Center and takes care of his 5-year-old daughter, Amara. They've lived at Bayfront since she was born. Amara learned to swim in the community pool in the middle of the courtyard.

She learned to fish off the seawall at the courtyard's edge, and when she caught her first fish, Mackenzie took pictures to show all the neighbors.

Steve Barton managed a neighborhood bar but lives off disability checks now that HIV has taken over his body. He moved into Bayfront Manor with his poodle, Zeke, in late December.

Lukas Simonis moved in in January; he does computer work for a finance company. He used to go to the store for ''Doc,'' the old deaf man who has lived across the hall as long as anyone can remember.

Benny Lacayo works nights as a concierge at a hotel on the Beach.

There are 100 units in Bayfront Manor. Rent was affordable, from the $700s to $1,395 for a corner penthouse. Artists, bankers, laborers, children and old people lived there: it was a mix, the way a city neighborhood should be.

The apartments are well-sized and comfortable. The big green courtyard is nice, and so is the pool; but it's the bay that makes the place. It's so close you can hear the water lapping. You can see for miles. You can feel the wind.

That feeling is worth a fortune to CG Miami, more than Amara and her dad and their neighbors can afford to pay. They are Miami's working class, for whom 20 percent down on a $1.6 million pre-construction loft is an obscene impossibility. So CG Miami wants them out.

15 DAYS NOTICE

The eviction letter that went out to tenants in mid-March gave 15 days notice. It offered a $500 bonus for tenants who vacated by March 31, and the immediate return of security deposits. For tenants who missed the deadline, a one-month extension was offered, but deposits would be returned only after inspection -- odd, considering the building is slated for demolition.

The letter referred questions to managing agent Suzana Burry. But Burry, as a second notice helpfully noted, was not immediately available ``due to previously scheduled family commitments.''

DOUBLE RENT

A third notice, which appeared in mailboxes the same day, threatened tenants who missed the move-out deadline with double rent in April -- a threat that some remaining tenants say has not been carried out.

Plans for development were under way long before Greg Altshuler sent out his eviction letter. Tenants say Bayfront Manor's owners, Robert Wohl and Michael Gold, stopped issuing yearly leases in 2004 and offered only month-to-month leases. That was one sign: another was the lavish unveiling party last September, which showed a design of ICE Squared on the land Bayfront Manor now occupies.

But according to Ray Figueroa, who lived in one of the corner penthouses, managing agent Burry 'told us they'd give six months' notice.''

Other tenants said Burry promised two to three months' notice, and one -- Barton -- signed a rental agreement in December for ``not less than six months.''

Burry did not return calls this week. But owner Michael Gold did. ''To the best of our knowledge, at the time we signed that agreement, they were not planning any demolition or eviction until fall of this year,'' Gold said. ``I told people not to worry -- I believed there would be nothing at all happening for two or three months. I don't understand why they didn't give them more time. A month -- it wouldn't have been any skin off their nose.''

Fifteen days' notice is all a developer must give, said Gary Saul, a real estate lawyer at the Miami firm Greenberg Traurig, who is not involved in the case. ''A month-to-month lease can typically be canceled with a 15-day notice,'' Saul explained. ``The Florida Condominium Act provides additional protection -- before the developer can market, it's got to give notice to tenants. They have to make sure that the tenants have adequate time to find alternative accommodations, if they're not going to buy a unit.''

Few tenants who were evicted last week consider two weeks ''adequate.'' They were angry, and scared, and amazed, which is how you'd expect people to be when they are hours away from being losing their homes. The lucky ones -- the ones who'd found new places -- stuffed their belongings into the U-Hauls that filled the courtyard.

Mackenzie Orchard and Amara were moving to his girlfriend's mother's house in Pembroke Pines. Barton couldn't find an affordable place that would take Zeke; he didn't know where he'd go. Lukas Simonis drained his savings to rent a room in a house on 67th Street. ''Doc,'' the old man, was going to be moved into an assisted-living facility in Aventura. Lacayo, the concierge, thought he'd lined up a new place but just learned it was taken.

`WE FELT LUCKY'

''I just need to try to think about what to do,'' Lacayo said, on the steps outside his apartment. ``I have to find a hotel or something. We felt lucky to live here, you know? And now we don't have anywhere else to go. Do you think it's fair, what they're doing?''

Bayfront Manor is virtually empty now. Tuesday night, tenants said only 12 people were still living in the complex.

Barton isn't one of them. He and his dog Zeke were evicted over the weekend. Barton had taken the $500 bonus last week and agreed to leave by March 31; when management found out he was still in his apartment, they took his belongings out and left them on the grass, remaining tenants said.

A representative for CG Miami Partners II said there would be no comment until next week. Greg Altshuler, the man who signed the eviction letter, was in his office Monday, but he must be a busy man. By Wednesday evening, he hadn't called back.

If you have a story idea, e-mail [email protected]

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Found this article when i was checking my e-mails.

It shows there is a Downside to development in some areas/people.

I just hope what they're replacing is really worth taking people out of their homes.

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I'm really starting to get concerned with the lack of good, clean affordable housing in South Florida. Especially in "rich" areas, like Boca. Where will all the teachers and middle class live down here?

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