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Articles Posted in Firm News

Firm shareholders Helio De La Torre and Lindsey Thurswell Lehr, together with associate Berenice M. Mottin-Berger, have worked for more than four years in representing the BrickellHouse Condominium Association in litigation over the property’s failed robotic parking garage.  Their work yielded a truly exceptional result last week when a Miami-Dade Circuit Court jury awarded the association $40,590,990 in damages against BrickellHouse Holding LLC, the developer of the 46-story tower in Miami’s Brickell area, and many of South Florida’s most respected media organizations took notice.  The verdict yielded major articles this week in the Miami Herald, Daily Business Review, South Florida Business Journal, The Real Deal and Law 360 about the trial team’s success in demonstrating to the jury that the developer, a subsidiary of Newgard Development Group, breached statutory warranties owed to the association and its unit owners.

Helio-De-La-Torre-2013“The association has been left without parking for its residents in the promised 480 vehicle garage since November 2015,” explained De La Torre to reporters after the verdict.  “Since that date, residents have been parking offsite and incurring increased costs due to the failed robotic parking system sold by the developer. The board of directors and a team of consultants have worked very hard to find a solution for the garage and bring the owners the justice they deserve.”

 

LTLehr-2018-Siegfried-Rivera-200x300Thurswell Lehr concluded:
“As a result of the verdict, the condominium association will now be able to move forward with the replacement of the garage in order to restore the parking for the building that the owners and residents deserve.”

BrickellHouse is located at 1300 Brickell Bay Drive and features 374 residences.  The 46-story tower was one of the first post-recession condo buildings constructed in the Brickell area.  After its completion in October 2014, the problems with the 480-space robotic parking system were immediately apparent.  The developer retained control of the condominium association through September 2015, and the robotic parking system was completely shut down in November 2015.

Below is a video depicting how the garage was designed to use a fleet of autonomous robots that move beneath the vehicles to lift and move them throughout the building and elevators.  Click here to read the Miami Herald article in the newspaper’s website, click here for the Daily Business Review article (registration required) and click here for The Real Deal.

 

 

Laura-Manning-Hudson-Gort-photo-200x300Firm shareholder Laura Manning-Hudson authored an article that was featured as the guest commentary column in today’s edition of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper.  The article, which is titled “HOA Dispute Over Backyard Playset, Other Amenities Snowballs Into Federal Lawsuit,” discusses an HOA’s dispute over the installation of a backyard playset, spa pool, barbecue and other amenities in a Georgia community that has escalated into a federal lawsuit alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act due to discriminatory housing practices.  Laura’s article reads:

. . . As was chronicled in a recent article in the Gainesville Times newspaper, Martin Moreira and his wife Zulema filed suit against the Pointe West Homeowner’s Association after their plans for a backyard makeover were nixed by the association. They filed the discrimination complaint in federal court in April after the HOA had issued fines and placed a lien against their home in the community located in Oakwood, in northern Georgia.

The dispute arose in the spring 2017 when the Moreiras submitted plans to the HOA to install a play area for their grandchildren as well as a barbecue, spa pool, fireplace, gazebo and other amenities in their backyard. The architectural control committee for the association rejected the project and requested additional information on several items for continued consideration.

dbr-logo-300x57The committee continued to reject the project after the supplemental information was submitted, but the complaint alleges that its members then went further than ever before. It states: “In deviation from established practice, ACC members went to the Hall County Building Department and demanded all information regarding Moreira’s application. Hall County Building Department staff later confided with Moreira’s architect, Jack Bailey, that ACC members were looking for something to kill the project.”

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susanodess-srhl-thumb-200x267-94402The firm’s Susan C. Odess authored an article that appeared as the featured guest commentary column in today’s edition of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper.  The article, which is titled “Court Opens Citizens Property Insurance to Claims for Consequential Damages,” focuses on a recent precedent-setting ruling with a certified question to the Florida Supreme Court by the state’s Fifth District Court of Appeal.  Her article reads:

. . . The appellate panel overturned the trial court’s decision and remanded the case back to the lower court for hearings on whether the claimant is entitled to consequential damages for lost rental income caused by the insurer’s delays and denials.

The case began with an insurance claim by Manor House with Citizens Property Insurance Corp., which accepted responsibility for the loss and paid $1.93 million. The property owner later reopened the claim seeking $10 million, and the insurer subsequently made additional payments for approximately $345,000. However, Citizens’ adjuster estimated the actual cash value and replacement cost value of the policyholder’s loss to be in the $5.5 to $6.5 million range.

dbr-logo-300x57The property owner eventually sued in 2007 seeking prompt payment of the allegedly undisputed amount of $6.4 million and asking the court to compel Citizens to engage in the appraisal procedures called for under the policy.

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Nicole-Kurtz-2014-200x300The firm’s Nicole R. Kurtz authored an article that was featured as the guest commentary column in today’s edition of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper.  The article, which is titled “New Laws Spurring Florida Community Associations to Implement E-Voting, Websites,” focuses on the recent changes in state law allowing community associations to implement electronic voting and requiring condominium associations with 150 units or more to have a website containing digital copies of certain official records.  Her article reads:

. . . The condominium association website laws mandate that compliant websites should have been operational as of Jan. 1 of this year. The laws call for association websites that are accessible only to unit owners and employees where certain notices, records and documents are posted. These must include the declaration of condominium, bylaws, articles of incorporation, rules and regulations of the association, as well as all executory contracts or documents to which the association is a party, or under which the association or unit owners have an obligation or responsibility.

dbr-logo-300x57Condominium association websites must also feature the association’s annual budget and proposed annual budget; financial reports; monthly income or expense statements; copies of bids, or summaries of bids, exceeding $500; association meeting notices, and board member certification forms.

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ElizabethBowen-srhl-law-2-200x300Firm shareholder Elizabeth A. Bowen appeared recently as the featured guest on the popular and award winning Legal News & Reviews radio show, which is heard in Florida every Monday at 3:30 p.m. on 96.9 FM, 103.9 FM and 740 AM-WSBR.

Elizabeth discussed a number of community association issues with hosts Philip Bell, Gary Singer and Eric Yankwittis.  Her segment, which was titled “The Complexities of Condo and HOA Association Law,” focused on hurricane preparedness for associations, board member term limits and other timely association topics.

Our firm salutes Elizabeth for sharing her insights on a number of important topics for community association directors, members and property managers with the show’s listeners.  Click here to listen to the program.

susanodess-srhl-224x300An article authored by shareholder Susan C. Odess was featured as the “Board of Contributors” guest commentary column in today’s edition of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper.  The article, which is titled “Florida Legislature Passes Assignment of Benefits Insurance Claim Reform,” discusses the ramifications of the new state law to reform the insurance industry practice known as assignment of benefits, or AOB.  Her article reads:

. . . The AOB process, which has been in place for decades, has become controversial in recent years because of an increase in residential water-damage claims, primarily for broken water pipes and leaks. Property owners sign over their claim benefits to contractors, which are then able to pursue payments directly from the insurers.

The proponents of AOBs say they help to ensure claims are properly paid, but the legislators supporting the bill have said it is aimed at curbing abuses of the AOB process. Insurance carriers have contended for many years that AOB fraud and the excessive litigation it generates have led to higher property-insurance rates.

dbr-logo-300x57The new law limits attorney fees in AOB lawsuits filed by contractors against insurers. The legal fees will be calculated using a set formula, but the caps would not apply to lawsuits filed by policyholders.

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Jeffrey-Respler-high-res-200x300Shareholder Jeffrey S. Respler authored an article that is featured as the “Board of Contributors” guest commentary column in today’s edition of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper.  The article, which is titled “Association Construction Contracts Require Deft Negotiation by Legal Counsel,” focuses on the nuances of construction contracts that community associations execute with general contractors for major renovation and remodeling projects.  It reads:

. . . Construction contracts often represent some of the costliest expenses that condominium associations will ever approve, yet many associations fail to utilize the necessary legal resources and expertise to craft and execute the most effective terms and agreements. Instead, they focus merely on obtaining competitive bids, as most associations are required to do for projects exceeding 5% of their total annual budget (10% for HOAs), and often neglect to consult with highly qualified and experienced legal counsel to negotiate and finalize every aspect of their agreement with a general contractor.

Without a lawyer involved, a poorly negotiated and written construction contract can have serious consequences. Having a qualified and experienced attorney draft or review an association’s contract can help avoid risks and expensive disputes. Dealing with the aftereffects of a poorly negotiated or poorly written contract can be far more expensive than paying a lawyer to do it correctly in the first place. An experienced attorney can draft and negotiate a contract that will protect an association’s interests and be legally sound.

dbr-logo-300x57Attorneys write contracts in ways that favor their clients. Attorneys with experience in the construction industry will know the customary contract terms, and they will draft a contract in their client’s favor. If the contractor is drafting the contract, its lawyer will be doing exactly that.

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susanodess-srhl-thumb-200x267-94402Stuart-Sobel-2013-200x300Firm partners Stuart Sobel and Susan C. Odess won a $3.67 million jury verdict in federal court in Miami for the St. Louis Condominium Association, which sued its insurer Rockhill Insurance Co. over a denied claim for extensive damage to the Brickell Key tower caused by Hurricane Irma.  The verdict was filed last Wednesday, June 5, and it is chronicled in an article in today’s edition of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper.  The article reads:

. . . the judgment is good news for the association since it stood to get nothing from its insurer, said Stuart Sobel, who was part of the Siegfried Rivera team representing the association.

“I believe in juries, and I am pretty pleased with the results. In light of the alternative where the insurance company basically said, ‘We are not paying any money.’ They said we suffered no damage form Hurricane Irma,” Sobel said.

He said the hurricane churned in the condominium’s vicinity for 24 hours. The building sits on Biscayne Bay east of downtown Miami.
Sobel worked on the case with Siegfried Rivera’s Susan Odess . . .

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susanodess-srhl-224x300LindseyTLehr-200x300An article authored by shareholders Lindsey Thurswell Lehr and Susan C. Odess was featured as the “My View” guest commentary column in the Business Monday section of today’s Miami Herald.  The article, which is titled “Lawsuits by Condo Associations Against Neighboring Developers, Builders Are New Norm,” focuses on the spate of recent lawsuits against South Florida condominium developers and general contractors alleging their construction work caused physical damage to neighboring condominium towers.  Their article reads:

. . . This new litigation trend appears to have especially taken hold in South Florida, where several prominent condominium developers and contractors have been sued by adjacent associations for damages emanating from their construction sites. The lawsuits raise claims for structural damage, fallen stucco, splattered paint, excessive dirt, broken glass/windows, and other damage resulting from the construction practices of neighboring developments.

The insurer for the 1060 Brickell Condominium Towers brought a lawsuit alleging construction debris from Panorama, 1010 Brickell and the Bond damaged the two 1060 Brickell buildings. The lawsuit claims that the construction activities at these properties damaged 1060 Brickell’s facade, balconies, railings, pool deck, roof, cooling tower and other components.

MHerald2015-300x72The entire development team behind the ultra-luxe Porsche Design Tower faced a similar lawsuit brought by the association for the adjacent Millennium Condominium. The association alleged that its building suffered millions of dollars in damage caused by the Porsche Tower’s construction next door, including extensive cracks to the lobby, parking garage and pool deck. Engineers concluded that the cracks were caused by excessive vibrations from the pile-driving equipment used for the neighboring tower’s foundation, and the suit also alleged concrete overspray splattered onto Millennium’s balconies, ruining the building’s paint job and related exterior components.

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Nicole-Kurtz-2014-200x300An article authored by the firm’s Nicole R. Kurtz was featured as the guest commentary column in today’s edition of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper.  Her article, which is titled “Association Election ‘Shenanigans’ Lead to Contentious, Costly Litigation,” focuses on the takeaways for Florida community associations from the case involving the strange and suspicious circumstances surrounding an Orlando-area HOA’s last annual election.  It reads:

A case in which a trial court concluded may have involved some association election “shenanigans” is going back to the trial court for further proceedings after the Fifth District Court of Appeal reversed the lower court’s order mandating binding arbitration.

“What should have been a rather routine meeting of the Association was cloaked with mystery, intrigue, and confusion,” begins the Fifth DCA’s unanimous opinion in the case of Winter Green at Winter Park HOA v. Richard Ware et al. Indeed, mystery, intrigue and confusion seem to be very apropos for describing the set of circumstances that unfolded during the Orlando suburb’s annual meeting and election.

It all began when somehow two nearly identical notices were sent out to announce the upcoming annual meeting and election to the homeowners. Both notices included the necessary agenda and accompanying documents, however the notice prepared by the association’s property manager set the annual meeting date for November 15, 2017, while the other notice announced the annual meeting was to be held on November 12, 2017.

dbr-logo-300x57Fifty-five members of the association attended the Nov. 12 meeting, which was sufficient to establish a quorum, but the owners were surprised to find that neither the property manager nor any of the current board members were present. An owner was even dispatched to the property manager’s office to seek clarification on the manager and directors’ absence, but he found no one there.

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