Leaks, mold strike Doral apartments
Peter Zalewski

Tenants in at least 60 percent of the 384 rental units at the 3-year-old Jefferson at Doral luxury apartment complex in Miami-Dade County have been asked to leave so the landlord can fix water leaks and isolated cases of mildew.

The latest round of evictions is scheduled to occur Jan. 15, when residents are being forced to move from their apartments and townhouses, where rents range from $1,060 to $1,635 a month.

The property owner, Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., is offering tenants a month of free rent and $600 in moving expenses to relocate within the 22-building complex to a renovated building. Tenants who choose to leave the complex are being offered $500 for moving costs.

"We are experiencing some issues with water leaks in some of the buildings," said MetLife spokeswoman Jennie Morgan in New York. "We are in the process of addressing that. This has required us to take some of the buildings offline so we can fully repair them."

Some of the repairs have included the removal of "isolated mildew" from apartments, Morgan said. However, she downplayed the affect that mold is having on the overall amount of repairs being done.

Even so, any mention of mold needs to be taken seriously by property owners since a Texas jury ordered an insurance company to pay a homeowner $32 million for failing to react quickly enough to restore a property suffering from mold after a "water intrusion," said Boca Raton attorney Michael Greene of the firm Blank Rome Comisky & McCauley.

Mold spores, which exist everywhere, need only a food source such as drywall or carpeting pads and moisture to grow, Greene said.

The results can cause respiratory problems and exacerbate asthma, he said.

Therefore, cleaning it up quickly should be a priority for all landlords. The cleanup, however, is a laborious and expensive problem to resolve since spores easily spread when disturbed. But the alternative - litigation - could be even more expensive, he said.

"What is driving this is the issue of the leaks," Morgan said.

Morgan said MetLife began work to repair the complex in mid-2001 and expects to be complete by the third quarter of 2003. She did not know how much the construction is expected to cost.

Morgan said the company is leasing out newly renovated units, has not "broken" any leases and is encouraging tenants to stay. Amenities at the gated complex include a fitness center, movie theater, car wash facility, pool and tennis courts.

"In essence what they are doing, because I asked, is breaking the lease," said William Aldrich, who has lived at the complex since September 2001 and renewed for another year, only to find out he was being evicted.

Aldrich said he received a letter Dec. 1 from the property manager, "that didn't give any specifics," asking him to schedule a meeting. When he met with a representative of the management company, JPI of Irving, Texas, Aldrich said he was told that his 16-unit building was part of the next phase of reconstruction and he would have to leave.

"The time of year is lousy because of the holidays," said Aldrich, who had a rental truck parked in the empty parking lot near his two-story unit. "The holidays are just busy."

Aldrich said by his "best guestimate" the complex was more than 60 percent full when he first moved in, but today that occupancy rate is probably less than 20 percent. Most of his neighbors, he said, have decided to leave. He has, too.

MetLife purchased the complex in November 1999 for $30.3 million from Jefferson at Doral Limited Liability Corp., an entity set up by a division of JPI to build the project.

Less than a month earlier the complex had received its certificate of occupancy, according to the state.

JPI, which agreed to stay on as the property manager, is one of the largest private multifamily developers and operators in the country with more than 24,000 units in more than 10 states.

JPI declined to comment for this story. It owns and manages four apartment complexes in South Florida: the Jefferson at Camino Real in Boca Raton, the Jefferson at Coral Square in Coral Springs, the Jefferson at Young Circle in Hollywood and the Jefferson at Flagler in West Palm Beach.

Miami-Dade permit records indicate that four permits have been obtained for the Doral project since September to do a variety of construction, ranging from roof restoration to ventilation work.

As for the future of the project, progress reports in the form of checklists with some two dozen tasks are posted on the doors of the units undergoing work.

But the tenant Aldrich said that is probably not an adequate gauge of the progress.

"When I first moved in, they [property managers] said it [the construction] would be finished in a month or two," he said. "Obviously they had no idea of the problems involved."

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