Pavilion from the Ocean

Pavilion from the Ocean

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Freddie Mac: South Florida housing market continues to improve

South Florida ranks as the nation's 25th most stable housing market, according to a report Wednesday from mortgage company Freddie Mac.

Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties scored 91.7 on Freddie's Multi-Indicator Market Index for May. That's up 13 percent from a year earlier.

Freddie Mac determines a composite score for the nation's 100 largest metro areas after analyzing home loan applications, affordability, mortgage delinquencies and employment. A score of at least 80 is considered stable. A perfect score is 100.

The tri-county region has the highest score of the eight Florida metros included in the report. South Florida's 91.7 is more than double its all-time low of 45.3 in October 2010.

The U.S. index score in May was 85, up 7 percent from a year ago. Honolulu, Hawaii, and Salt Lake City, Utah, shared the top spot among metros.

 Len Kiefer, deputy chief economist for Freddie Mac, said in a statement that "the majority of Southern states showed stronger employment growth than the national average and all of the eight markets in Florida that MiMi tracks are now back to their historic benchmark levels of housing activity."

In South Florida, prices are on the rise, mostly due to a lack of homes for sale, real estate agents say.
The median prices for existing, single-family homes in all three counties topped $300,000 in June, according to figures last week from local Realtor boards. Median prices for existing condominiums also were higher in June than they were a year ago.

Judy Trudel, an agent in Broward and Palm Beach counties, said some sellers "continue to push the envelope" by asking too much for their homes. But buyers are resisting, and that's keeping the market from getting out of hand, she said.

"Back in the boom, sellers would put crazy prices on the homes – and get them," Trudel said. "But [today's] market is pretty healthy. If sellers put a fair and reasonable price on a home, it will sell."


Dear State Senators,

For too long HOA and Condo owners have waited for our elected officials, our Leaders, to CARE about our homes. We are victims of  theft, harassment, and lies at the hands of corrupt boards, management companies and  attorneys. We don't have peace in our own homes. Our homes, families must matter to our leaders it's our priority,  for most our largest investment. Owners demand change to HOA/condo law, enforcement by DBPR, and the funding (trust fund, which is currently funded by a $4 unit fee paid by 1.1 million unit owners in the state of Florida.)to protect our homes.

At this moment we are Ping ponged around by DBPR who has not referred 1 case to the State Attorneys office nor bothered to remove 1 board member in all these years for breaking Condo law. 

Ping ponged by police when we report the fraud.

 Ping ponged by our politicians who have known of the problem for years and left HOA/Condo owners to dry.

Our homes are not a GAME. We are not going to stop until there is change. The problem of non enforcement of condo law by our government has caused a financial hardship and deteriorated the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of the 1.5+ million Condo Owners across Florida.

Special interest don't want the DBPR to do their job and for the laws to be enforced. Attorneys, management companies, and corrupt Board members are the ones gaining from the misery of owners.

Leader please support a change to condo law, stricter enforcement by DBPR, and the funding to protect our homes.

Thank you,

Maryin Vargas 

Condo owner in Miami, FL

#Miami real estate keeps cooling down

Existing home sales fell again in June
But prices are still on the up
Broward County had a strong month
The boom is over.

The volume of existing home sales fell again in Miami-Dade County in June, reflecting a real estate market that has settled down after three years of heady, unsustainable growth. But prices are still rising as buyers and sellers take time to adjust to the new dynamic. Competition remains intense for mid-range homes. And the market in Broward County, which is less dependent on foreign buyers, continues to grow.In Miami-Dade, the number of single-family homes sold fell to 1,296 in June, down 6.3 percent from June 2015, according to a report released Thursday by the Miami Association of Realtors. Condo sales declined to 1,343, a 10.6 percent annual drop.

Total monthly sales in Miami-Dade have fallen consistently since August 2015. Much of the drop-off is happening at the luxury and bargain ends of the market. That’s due to a decline in foreign buyers, who are dealing with plummeting currencies in Latin America. Also to blame for fewer sales: a lack of foreclosure inventory, which has been scooped up by investors as the housing market recovers.
Foreign buyers and investors often prefer to use cash, and those transactions are falling. Cash buyers accounted for 44.8 percent of deals in June, down from 50.4 percent in June 2015.
While sales are fewer, they’re still in line with historical averages.

In the middle of the market, demand remains strong, with fewer homes available than buyers would like. Inventory for single-family homes priced below $300,000 dropped 53 percent year-over-year, leading to fierce competition among middle-class buyers. Miami is one of the nation’s least affordable housing markets because wages haven’t kept up with soaring home values.

Overall, prices are still on the rise. Experts say they lag several months behind sales. There’s evidence the luxury market has already started to adjust: Realtors interviewed in recent weeks have said sellers of multi-million properties are starting to lower sky-high expectations.

The median price for single-family homes in Miami-Dade rose to $315,000 in June, up 12.5 percent from June 2015. Condo prices increased to $220,000, up 7.3 percent annually.
Broward stays strong

Sales and prices both rose in Broward County, which is less dependent on foreign buyers.
In June, 1,805 single-family home sales were recorded in Broward, up 4.7 percent annually, according to the Greater Fort Lauderdale Realtors. Condo sales reached 1,635, up 4.4 percent.
Prices for single-family homes in Broward hit $325,000 in June, up 7.3 percent year over year. Condo prices rose to $149,250, up 10.3 percent.

Broward’s housing market outpaced the U.S. in June, according to the National Association of Realtors. Nationally, existing home sales climbed 1.1 percent and median prices grew to $247,700, up 4.8 percent from June 2015. Those figures include both single-family homes and condos.

FEEDBACK - DBPR Condo Law Workshop Jul 19 2016 hosted by Stete Rep Jose Javier Rodriguez

Sent: Wednesday, July 20, 2016 10:22 AM
To: Lazaro Gonzalez (
Cc: ''
Subject: FEEDBACK - DBPR Condo Law Workshop Jul 19 2016 hosted by State Rep Jose Javier Rodriguez 

Good morning Mr. Gonzalez,

I was at the Workshop yesterday. 

Initially I was embarrassed by the attitude of the audience towards your lengthy presentation.

However, I was not aware that some of the attendees had seen the Facebook posting which I am including below.

Most of the attendees looked like humble people who have saved their money to buy a place to live.  “The American Dream.”  In this case a unit in a condominium.

Now they find that the Association fees are increasing exponentially probably due to mismanagement and corruption. They are afraid that they might end up homeless!

Yesterday, we did not want to hear how the DBPR works.  We wanted to be HEARD! You did not provide this opportunity.

We suspect that “bad apples” in the Board of Directors in some Associations are strengthen by bad Property Management firms and unethical lawyers who line up to drain our hard earned money using all kind of schemes.

Most of us thought that the DBPR was the mechanism that would help the “little” people.

As you saw last night, we are all extremely disappointed.  Especially when we see pictures like the ones below that can put into question the credibility of the DBPR.


A Concerned Condo Owner


Good evening Governor Rick Scott, Mr. Lawson, and Mr. Brown, 

I hope this email finds you well.

I attended the seminar today given by DBPR's Lazaro Gonzalez  and hosted by Representative Jose Javier Rodriguez. We appreciate the time taken to educate condo owners but like myself most condo owners know the process, have gone to DBPR, and things have not been resolved.

Condo owners are sick & tired of the corruption between Boards and Management companies. We get ping-ponged around by DBPR, attorneys, and the police.

Condo owners have been waiting too long more than 12 years for there to be REAL reform to Condo Law that protects owners. In addition, DBPR must exercise the powers the legislature has given it like removing Board Members that break the law and referring cases to the state attorney's office. Why have they not done this?

Unfortunately, 12 years later condo owners still have more questions & frustration than answers. 

Why has the DBPR not used the power given to them by the legislature to remove Board members. In my case at Granada Grand they have violated the law including failing to hold elections, not maintaining association records, having Board members that over 90 days delinquent, in addition, to the six other allegations I have presented to you.

In all prior cases the DBPR has found the board at fault. They have broken condo law.

Please let me know what the resolution to my case is. I have not received any correspondence since our last conversation early June.

If their constituents homes are not important to our leaders then I don't know what is.

I appreciate your time.

Thank you,


Argentina probes ties between ex-presidents, Miami real estate empire

A top aide to Néstor Kirchner shows up in Panama Papers
The aide is linked to $65 million in condos and commercial properties
Argentine prosecutor suspects it’s part of major money-laundering ring

Where did a mystery man from Argentina get nearly $65 million to spend on ultra-luxury Miami condos, New York apartments and South Florida strip malls?

That’s what Argentine prosecutors want to know, especially because Sergio Todisco doesn’t seem to have a fortune of his own — and because he once acted as an offshore corporate front-man for a top aide to former president Néstor Kirchner.

The controversy again shows how Miami’s gleaming condos attract secret and potentially illicit money from around the world.

Between 2010 and 2015, Florida companies registered in the names of Todisco and his now ex-wife, Elizabeth Ortiz Municoy, a real estate agent in Miami and Buenos Aires, spent about $21 million on luxury condos at some of South Florida’s best-known towers, including Icon Brickell, St. Regis, Turnberry Ocean Colony, Apogee Beach and 900 Biscayne. The crown jewel was a $10.7 million, four-bedroom unit at the Regalia in Sunny Isles Beach. The companies later sold most of the units.
Other companies that listed Todisco and Municoy as officers invested $30 million in South Florida bank branches and a pharmacy, as well as a $13 million unit at Manhattan’s stately Plaza Hotel.
Only two of the transactions involved mortgages, according to public records, meaning the other deals were likely for cash.

In Argentina, major corruption investigations are swirling around ex-president Kirchner,who died in 2010, and his wife, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who subsequently became president. Now, an Argentine federal prosecutor has opened an inquiry to determine if Todisco and Municoy were laundering money for Kirchner associates — or even the Kirchners themselves, although they’re not yet an official target of the investigation.

At the very least, there’s compelling evidence that Todisco and Municoy were buying properties for people who wanted to keep their identities hidden.

“The tax position of Todisco and Municoy revealed by documents obtained [by the prosecutor’s office] makes it impossible to associate them with the million-dollar transactions carried out abroad,” reads a complaint filed as part of the investigation into the Todisco affair.

Here’s why Argentine law enforcement is so suspicious: At the same time Todisco was snapping up luxe Miami condos, he acted as the director of Gold Black Limited, an offshore company based in the British Virgin Islands. Gold Black’s stated purpose was “real estate investment” in the United States, according to documents in the massive leak of confidential offshore files known as the Panama Papers.

The company’s owners? Néstor Kirchner’s personal secretary and close friend, Héctor Daniel Muñoz, who died of cancer earlier this year, and Muñoz’s wife, Carolina Pochetti.

A lawyer for Fernández de Kirchner did not respond to questions and Pochetti could not be reached.

The president’s shadow

Muñoz had been a debt collector at the Kirchners’ law firm before they came to power.
During his time in government, he served as Kirchner’s “body man,” a sort of valet and jack-of-all-trades who answered the president’s phone, handled his medication and stayed by his side when he was hospitalized. Kirchner affectionately called him el gordo (“fatty”) and, according to a press account, once slapped him during an argument. The pair was also fond of play-wrestling. When Kirchner couldn’t sleep, he would wake up his friend to keep him company.
One profile described Muñoz as having more pull than any cabinet minister. To get to Kirchner, you had to go through el gordo.

After Kirchner’s term ended in 2007 and Fernández de Kirchner was elected to replace him, Muñoz joined her staff. But he resigned two years later following accusations he used his post to enrich himself. In 2013, he was investigated on suspicion of money laundering for allegedly flying bags of cash around the country for the Kirchners. He was cleared by a judge.

While offshore companies have many legal uses, their secrecy appeals to lawbreakers.
The corporate structure of Muñoz’s offshore was so opaque that not even Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian law firm handling its affairs, seemed to know who the real owner was.

The firm withdrew when it found out in 2015 that the offshore belonged to Muñoz, according to leaked emails. A compliance officer was concerned that past corruption accusations meant working with him could violate global anti-money laundering rules, even though Muñoz had never been convicted of wrongdoing.

When a team of global journalists that included the Miami Herald published its findings on the Panama Papers in April, Muñoz’s secret offshore company was revealed. The Argentine website BorderPeriodismo then uncovered Todisco’s connection to nearly $40 million worth of South Florida real estate.

(The Panama Papers reporting effort was led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The Herald and its parent company, McClatchy, were the only U.S. newspaper outletsto participate in the initial series. The Herald’s series showed how money from people accused of corruption helps fuel Miami’s real estate boom.)

The combination of a close Kirchner ally and tens of millions of unexplained dollars in American real estate piqued the interest of prosecutors in Argentina.

Juan Manuel Pettigiani, a federal prosecutor from Todisco’s home city of Mar del Plata, opened an investigation in May. He says Todisco’s bank records show a monthly income of about $2,000. It seems impossible he and his wife had the funds to buy so many properties, Pettigiani wrote in the complaint.

“My initial hypothesis, based on financial records, was that this was an association to launder money for corrupt public officials,” he told the Herald. “Now I believe [Todisco and Municoy] might have used this know-how to launder money from other sources as well.”

There could be a simpler explanation: Concerned about their safety and privacy, foreign buyers often keep their names out of public records in the United States, even if they have violated no laws. It is possible Todisco was dealing on behalf of a legitimate but publicity-shy investor.

But efforts to reach Todisco by phone and email did not elicit a response.

The investigation is still in its initial stages pending approval by a special financial crimes unit before it can proceed.

Panama ties

In an April interview with Argentine newspaper La Nacion, Todisco said he agreed to serve as the director of Muñoz’s offshore company, Gold Black, because they were friends. He said he wasn’t involved in the company’s day-to-day operations.

Reached on her cell phone, Municoy, who owns Surfside-based realty firm Municoy International Properties, said she knew nothing about the multimillion-dollar transactions or the offshore. She said she divorced Sergio Todisco “a long time ago” and that she had “nothing to do” with the properties.
“How could I know?” she responded, when asked where the money had come from.

She would not specify when she ended her marriage to Todisco and declined to provide proof of the divorce. She said that two of the properties — a unit at Icon Brickell and another at Apogee Beach — belong to companies she owns, and that her name appeared on business records associated with some of the other properties only because she was married to Todisco at the time. “I have no knowledge of his personal business or that of his family,” she said. “You are associating my companies, which have nothing to do with this, with the companies of people I don’t know.”

Her firm’s small office in Surfside, sandwiched between a wig store and a frozen yogurt shop, boasts advertisements for some of South Florida’s most luxurious, pre-construction condo towers, including Armani/Casa, Turnberry Ocean Club and Fendi Château.

You are associating my companies, which have nothing to do with this, with the companies of people I don’t know. Elizabeth Ortiz Municoy

There’s another striking connection between the Miami properties and Muñoz’s offshore, Gold Black.
In 2015, Todisco and Municoy resigned as directors for many of the Florida companies that held the real estate. They were replaced by a woman named Perla Resendez, who lists her address in corporate records as Miami law firm Roca Gonzalez.

At roughly the same time, Todisco resigned from Muñoz’s offshore company. There, too, Resendez stepped in as the new director.

“I think there’s intent in this,” said Pettigiani, the Argentine prosecutor. “It’s not a simple coincidence.”

In Pettigiani’s eyes, the resignation of Todisco from both Gold Black and the Florida companies was designed to “make it impossible to uncover who the people behind the financial transactions are.”
Like Gold Black, several of the Florida companies have names that evoke the precious metal: North Golden, South Golden, West Golden, Harbor Golden, Ocean Golden and Dream Golden Enterprises.
Roca Gonzalez acts as the registered agent for most of the Florida companies. It also represented Muñoz and his offshore company, according to leaked emails in the Panama Papers.

In an email, attorney Antonio Roca of Roca Gonzalez said he could not say who owned the properties without violating attorney-client privilege. In a brief message, he wrote: “We never represented Sergio Todisco. At the time we represented Mr. Muñoz, there were no pending investigations or charges against him.”

Resendez, he said, was the director of the corporate entity that owns the properties. He said he has never met her anddoes not know whether she lives in the United States.

Under Resendez, the Florida companies bought another unit each at Turnberry Ocean Colony and Icon Brickell, bringing the total spent by the companies to about $70 million.

She could not be located by the Herald.

Wealth through power

It’s not unusual for new governments in Latin America to pursue corruption charges against past leaders. And there’s no doubt the knives came out for the Kirchners after they became private citizens. But even for a region that ranks poorly in global corruption measures, the scale of the Kirchners’ alleged graft appears astounding, some experts say.

“It seems from my research that [the Kirchner administration] was a fairly structured enterprise to take as much money from the state as possible and put it into their personal coffers and the coffers of their closest supporters,” said Douglas Farah, a national security analyst and former journalist who has criticized the Kirchners in the past.

“The Kirchners got into power with the goal of getting rich,” said Ricardo Monner Sans, an Argentine lawyer and anti-corruption activist. “They understood the logic that in order to have power you had to have money, and in order to have money you had to steal.”

The Kirchners certainly grew wealthy in La Casa Rosada, Argentina’s presidential palace. Asset declaration forms give a glimpse of their rising financial status. The forms say their declared wealth increased more than 800 percent, to roughly $4.8 million, during the 12 years they spent in office.
Today, prosecutors are investigating whether the Kirchners and their associates skimmed money from public works contracts.

In June, police arrested a former public works secretary under Kirchner and Fernández de Kirchner. Neighbors of a religious convent outside Buenos Aires were alarmed when they saw the ex-official, José López, hurling plastic bags over a wall onto the property, according to the Washington Post. Summoned to the scene, officers discovered the bags contained at least $8 million in cash, as well as luxury watches and a semiautomatic rifle.

López allegedly tried to bribe police and was arrested, the Post reported. He was later charged with corruption, although he said the money had been meant as a donation for the nuns.
And an internal investigation by Argentina’s road construction agency recently concluded that the agency had been used as a vehicle to funnel public funds to the Kirchners and their associates, according to local press reports.

The agency found that it overpaid by as much as 64 percent for public works projects awarded to the construction company of a close Kirchner associate, Lázaro Báez.

Báez was arrested in April on money-laundering charges, and prosecutors claim he embezzled money from construction projects and moved millions into offshore accounts using a web of shell companies.

One former Báez associate, who admitted helping him launder money, testified in court that Báez and Néstor Kirchner carried out “a systematic plan whose purpose was to empty government coffers through [the approval of] public works.”

(Argentina’s current president, Mauricio Macri, has also been linked to an offshore company in the Panama Papers. A judge has ordered an inquiry into his tax returns.)

Charles Intriago, a former federal prosecutor and anti-money-laundering expert, said criminals often seek to invest stolen money in real estate.

“Real estate is the major open territory for criminals, corrupt public officials and money launderers,” he said. “The rewards are too great and the risks of being caught are too low.”

Safe place for cash

Todisco and Municoy didn’t content themselves with fancy homes in Miami.

In 2011, a Todisco company spent $13 million on a condo at Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel, which overlooks Central Park and offers residential units in addition to hotel rooms. (The company had earlier paid $1.85 million for another unit in the same building. The man listed as running the company at the time, Osvaldo Parolari, could not be contacted for comment. Todisco took over the company, Free Experience Inc., soon after the first deal.)

In South Florida, companies registered to Todisco and Municoy bought up commercial real estate, too. The buildings they acquired are leased to big corporate names: A CVS pharmacy in Little Havana for $12.1 million. A TD Bank in Miami Shores for $5.5 million. Another TD Bank in Kendall for nearly $7 million. A BankUnited branch in Pompano Beach for $5.8 million.

A recent federal crackdown on money laundering in Miami real estate focused only on residential properties. But commercial real estate might deserve a harder look, too, said Jack McCabe, a South Florida real estate analyst.

“There hasn’t been much scrutiny placed on commercial because there’s so many buyers in the residential market,” McCabe said. “But I think we’re seeing potentially laundered money being funneled into commercial real estate as well. … In commercial real estate, the transactions are much larger. It gives the buyer potential to move greater sums of money in fewer transactions.”
Companies registered to Resendez and Municoy still own about $45 million worth of real estate, including all the commercial properties and units at the Regalia, Icon Brickell, Turnberry Ocean Colony and Apogee Beach. The other units were sold for a total profit of about $5 million.
It’s not clear if Muñoz’s offshore company is still active.

After Mossack Fonseca resigned, another offshore services provider agreed to work with Gold Black. But before that, MF’s Miami representative, Olga Santini, argued against dropping Muñoz.
Santini said his lawyer had told her the charges were unproven. “Nothing is concrete,” she wrote in a leaked email.

When asked for comment on the investigation into Todisco and Muñoz, her lawyer responded by sending the Herald a cease-and-desist letter.

Miami Herald columnist Andrés Oppenheimer contributed to this report


WHEN:  Tuesday, July 19 2016

TIME: 6:30pm to 8:30pm

WHERE: MDC InterAmerican Campus Room 3103
 627 SW 27th Ave Miami 33125

Conducted by  Representative JOSE JAVIER RODRIGUEZ
Telephone: (305)854-0365

Judge orders condo association to pay water bill despite poverty plea

Article Courtesy of The Palm Beach Post
By Christine Stapleton   
Published July 15, 2016

West Palm Beach -- A judge on Monday ordered the condominium association to pay whatever it takes to keep the water from being shut off at Green Terrace -- an 84-unit apartment complex once raided by the FBI in its investigation of South Florida sober homes.
The city shut off water to the complex Thursday morning when the board failed to pay a long-overdue $22,000 water bill. The association, embroiled in a bitter lawsuit with residents over finances, told residents there was not enough money to pay the bill.

However, some bills are being paid, including pool service and termite control in Bailynson’s units, Pincus said. The real reason, he said the board doesn’t want to pay the water bill is so members can use the shutoff as leverage to dissolve a year-old legal injunction.

The injunction bars the board from raising assessments, performing construction and borrowing an additional $2.5 million from a company owned by Bailynson. The board already has taken out a $1.5 million loan from Bailynson’s company. That loan, with a 24 percent interest rate, requires the board to make monthly interest payments of $30,000.

Matus said, as president, she did not have details of the association’s finances. She just signs checks when her signature is needed. However, she said she knew that bills that have been paid this year were for services last year and that all accounts are in arrears. The association has been paying the minimum amount necessary to keep the water on, Matus said.

As for the city’s claim that it tried to work out a payment plan to prevent the shutoff last week, Matus denied those discussions occurred. City officials did not return a call for comment.

Matus said she did not know how or when the association would comply with the judge’s order.

“You can’t pay something you don’t have money for,” Matus said.

#Miami ’s real estate market is coming back down to earth

Home sales fell during the second quarter in Miami and Miami Beach
Prices may start to fall soon, too
Miami is entering a “buyer’s market”

Welcome to the slowdown.

Miami’s residential real estate market has cooled off significantly over the last year. But it’s not crashing and that’s a sign of stability, according to a quarterly report from brokerage Douglas Elliman and New York-based Miller Samuel Real Estate Appraisers & Consultants.

“This market has never had stability,” said Jay Parker, Florida CEO of Douglas Elliman, of the region’s perennial boom-and-bust cycles. “We have gone through tremendous growth over the last few years. It’s just natural that it will start to calm at that point. ... But it’s not leading to an implosion. It’s leading to a market that is more sustainable.”

We’re shifting to a buyer’s market, and sellers may have to adjust their expectations. Jay Parker
The report found that in the second quarter of 2016, the number of home sales fell 25 percent in Miami Beach and the barrier islands compared to the previous year. In greater downtown Miami and its major suburbs, sales were down 12.5 percent annually. Even so, they stayed above historical averages.

Those numbers cover both condos and single-family homes. The Miami Beach market includes Sunny Isles Beach, Bal Harbour, Bay Harbor Islands, Key Biscayne and Fisher Island. The Miami market includes Aventura, Coral Gables, South Miami, Pinecrest and Palmetto Bay.

Sellers are having a harder time unloading properties in today’s market: The number of active listings jumped in both Miami and Miami Beach, as did the number of days homes are staying on the market.
Prices haven’t come down yet in many areas, but that trend can’t continue, Parker said.

“We’re shifting to a buyer’s market, and sellers may have to adjust their expectations,” he said.
Median sales prices rose to $280,000 in Miami (up 7.7 percent annually) and to $435,000 in Miami Beach (up 2.4 percent).

The sales slowdown is mainly the result of a strong dollar and weak economies abroad. After the recession, foreign buyers took advantage of a struggling dollar to scoop up Miami real estate, fueling a frenzied boom. Now that the currency situation has reversed, they can’t compete at the same level.

Broward and Palm Beach counties, which rely less on foreign buyers, generally did better, the report found.

As market struggles, Venezuelan oil tycoon suspends sales at Miami condo project

Boulevard 57 is on hold
Miami’s luxury condo market is struggling as foreign buyers evaporate
Morningside project’s developer had business ties to regime of Hugo Chávez

A luxury condo project slated for Miami’s quiet Morningside neighborhood hasn’t been as popular as its developer, Venezuelan oil man Gerardo Pantin Shortt, had hoped.

Sales have been suspended at Boulevard 57, an eight-story tower at 5700 Biscayne Blvd. where units start at $600,000, a spokeswoman for Pantin confirmed Monday. Pantin’s family made its fortune in Venezuela’s oil industry before, during and after the regime of Hugo Chávez.

“The sales have not been canceled, we are just reducing our sales cost for the next two quarters,” said a statement provided by the development team. “The condo market has been very slow for the last six weeks and as you may know we are entering in low season for the condo market and we want to cut budget for the next months or until we feel the market has moved for better.”

The project’s sales center will remain open.

A strong dollar and weak economies abroad are crippling the foreign buyers who snapped up Miami properties over the past few years. Several new projects have been canceled or put on hold as sales slump, including Ion East in Edgewater and the Collection Residences in Coral Gables.

Existing residential sales fell 10.4 percent in May, according to the Miami Association of Realtors.
Boulevard 57 had pitched its off-the-beach location as appealing to domestic buyers. But it appears they didn’t bite.

“I think the industry expected the project to get put on hold,” said Peter Zalewski, a South Florida real estate analyst. “They were a victim of market timing. I was invited to the launch party [last month] and at the time I told everyone I knew to go because I thought it would be the last launch party of this real estate cycle. ... Going forward, you’re likely to see more projects get shelved.”
Zalewski said it could take two years before the condo market is back in good shape.

But a planned retail component at Boulevard 57 may still happen.

The Real Deal, which first reported the news that sales had ended, said the project may up its retail space from 40,000 to 50,000 square feet and would like to attract a Trader Joe’s or Publix. The website also reported that the entire site may be on the market for $26 million.

Unseen forces

Pantin stayed quiet about his involvement in Boulevard 57, keeping his name out of the press and public records after a company he controlled paid $15 million for the 2.3-acre site in 2014. A lawsuit filed by an ex-partner alleged that Pantin used shell companies and front men to hide his identity.

His business ties to the Chávez government drew criticism when they were revealed by the Miami Herald in April and emphasized the unseen forces shaping Miami’s real estate market.

“Miami has become the home for exiles that have been disenfranchised from Venezuela,” Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said at the time. “There should be a moral stigma when you do business with the government in Venezuela while the people suffer and then come here to do grandiose projects.”

Our relationship with the government is strictly commercial. Gerardo Pantin Shortt

Patin said safety concerns in Venezuela led him to minimize his public role in Boulevard 57 and that his family, which earned $991 million in contracts from Venezuela’s state oil company between 2008 and 2015, played no part in politics. An economic crisis and food shortages have led to chaos in the Latin American nation.

“Our relationship with the government is strictly commercial,” he said.

The setback for Boulevard 57 means developers have tried and failed to bring condos to Morningside since 2003. A previous project, called Kubik, was derailed by neighbors angry over its scale.

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Whether you are being asked to elect a new board, approve a material alteration, amend your governing documents or waive reserves, Becker & Poliakoff's new online voting system, 

BPBALLOT, allows you to weigh in on these important issues for your community by casting your vote from the comfort and convenience of your home or office.

BPBALLOT has been specifically designed to comply with Florida law to allow members in condominium, cooperative and homeowners' associations to cast their votes online. Online voting can be a more effective, secure way for your association to conduct membership votes.

Our demonstration will take you through the process of an election and an amendment vote, and will explain how online voting works from the perspective of a member, manager and a board member

Thursday, August 4, 2016
12:00 PM - 1:30 PM
Registration begins at 11:30 AM

Contact Leydis Hernandez at or
305.262.4433 Ext. 11041 for more info.

He rented his condo to a fugitive — and the guy won’t leave

Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald
By Kyra Gurney   
Published July 5, 2016

The trouble started in April, when Sergey Umrikhin’s new tenant paid his $1,500 rent a month late — surprising, considering records showed $138,000 flowing into his bank account in December alone.

Then Umrikhin received a violation letter from the property manager at Avant Garde, the highrise Hallandale Beach condominium complex where he owns a unit. Umrikhin’s tenant was throwing cigarettes over the third-floor condo balcony and drinking out of glass bottles on the pool deck, the letter said.

Umrikhin filed eviction papers in mid-May, after two months of late payments.

After he found out about the Interpol “red notice,” Umrikhin said he contacted the Hallandale Beach Police Department the next day, and called the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security in mid-June. Two weeks later, Kholodnyak and his wife are still in the apartment, according to Umrikhin.

The Herald was unable to determine what action, if any, has been taken by federal authorities in response. The FBI would not confirm whether Umrikhin had called the agency, and a spokesman for Homeland Security in Miami said the department “does not confirm or deny any ongoing investigations as a matter of policy.”

The U.S. Marshals Service, the agency with primary jurisdiction over foreign nationals on Interpol’s wanted list, said it is unable to arrest Russian nationals on the list because the United States and Russia don’t have an extradition treaty.

“At this point in time, the U.S. Marshals Service is not investigating or looking into Mr. Kholodnyak. Since there is no treaty between the U.S. and Russia, Mr. Kholodnyak can’t be picked up on the Interpol notice,” explained Senior Inspector Barry Golden, a spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

Foreign money, some of it from individuals with questionable financial backgrounds, has flooded the South Florida condo market,so much so that the Treasury Department announced temporary regulations requiring title insurance companies to identify the owners of shell companies buying high-end Miami real estate in cash.

“If you’re renting out luxury units to an international clientele, you need to get professional advice to see who they are. Kenneth Rijock, former money launderer who became a financial crime consultant

But the more restrictive rules do not apply to renters, leaving landlords at risk of leasing their condos to tenants with sketchy backgrounds.

The online background check Avant Garde required Kholodnyak to complete failed to turn up the charges against Kholodnyak in Russia, or his presence on Interpol’s wanted list.

The background check, provided to the Miami Herald, states “All Clear,” highlighted in green, followed by a short explanation: “No criminal or eviction history found.”

The service Avant Garde used searches national records, but does not perform an international background check, according to its website. Avant Garde referred the Herald to the condominium complex’s lawyer, who did not respond to requests for comment.

International background checks are typically more expensive and take longer to complete than searches of national or state criminal records.

Kholodnyak responded to the Miami Herald’s questions through his wife, Olga, whose English is better than his.

“When Vladimir moved to the apartment, he gave all information to Avant Garde to the building manager,” Olga Karpenko told the Herald. “If they approve him, it means they checked everything about him that they need.”

Kholodnyak and his brother Alexander, who is also on the Interpol list, owned a construction company in southwestern Russia. They allegedly erected residential buildings without obtaining permits, and failed to finish some of them, defrauding clients who had purchased units in the buildings, according to Russian media reports.

The brothers were charged with fraud and illegal business practices in July 2014, a Russian Embassy spokesman, Ivan Filatov, told the Herald. Both men were added to Interpol’s red list in December 2014.

“Our position is that the charges are politically motivated,” said Michelle Estlund, a criminal defense attorney representing Vladimir Kholodnyak. Estlund said Kholodnyak has applied for asylum in the United States and that he has petitioned to have his name removed from the Interpol list. Kholodnyak is still waiting for a final response in both cases, according to Estlund.

Vladimir Kholodnyak “has problems with Russia with politics and doesn’t want to talk about it,” his wife told the Herald. Alexander Kholodnyak could not be reached for comment.

Vladimir Kholodnyak’s asylum lawyer, Anis Saleh, cautioned that some foreign governments have been known to use criminal charges as a means of political persecution. “There are many, many instances of people who are designated as fugitives or criminals and it’s later shown that it’s a measure of persecution or extortion or revenge,” he said.

The eviction case against Kholodnyak is pending. Umrikhin said he was ordered to update his three-day eviction notice at the most recent hearing, and that he is now waiting for a new hearing to be scheduled. Even if Kholodnyak agrees to pay the rent on time, Umrikhin still wants him out.

“I think he may provide some kind of danger to other people,” Umrikhin said.

Umrikhin and his partner have received what they interpret as threats from Kholodnyak in recent weeks.

“Listen to me you conman, I am already tired of you, mind your own business and take care of your health!” Kholodnyak e-mailed Umrikhin in Russian on June 22. “Shut your mouth and keep quiet.”

Maj. Pedro Abut, a spokesman for the Hallandale Beach police, said the department did not have a record of Umrikhin’s complaint and might have passed the information on to federal authorities without recording the complaint. Abut said the department contacted federal authorities following the Herald’s request for comment.

The Russian Embassy has not been contacted by U.S. law enforcement agencies regarding the Kholodnyak brothers, said spokesman Filatov.

“When Vladimir moved to the apartment, he gave all information to Avant Garde to the building manager. If they approve him, it means they checked everything about him that they need."

Olga Karpenko, tenant’s wife
In addition to Kholodnyak’s alleged fraud in Russia, Umrikhin has questions about his business dealings in the United States. The Herald found six companies registered in Kholodnyak’s name or in the names of apparent relatives, of which five appear to be shell companies. Two of the companies purchased three South Florida properties in 2014, all of which have since been resold.

“If you’re renting out luxury units to an international clientele, you need to get professional advice to see who they are,” said Kenneth Rijock, a former money launderer who became a financial crime consultant.“Unfortunately, many unit owners, when they see a large amount of rent that far exceeds the amount they’re paying for the mortgage, they see stars in their eyes and if it’s too good to be true they’ll go for it.”

Boris Vedenyapin, a broker who was hired by both Vladimir and Alexander Kholodnyak, said he was “not really” aware that Vladimir was on Interpol’s wanted list when he agreed to help him find an apartment. “He told me that he had some problems in Russia,” Vedenyapin explained.

“Anyway, they were just asking me to help them with the rental. I did my job. I just showed them a few properties.”

Rijock said some in the industry are becoming more careful about vetting prospective clients.

“The last thing a landlord wants is to see a picture of his unit in the newspaper involved in a drug bust,” he said.


WHEN:  Tuesday, July 19 2016

TIME: 6:30pm to 8:30pm

WHERE: MDC InterAmerican Campus Room 3103
 627 SW 27th Ave Miami 33125

Conducted by  Representative JOSE JAVIER RODRIGUEZ
Telephone: (305)854-0365

Short-term rentals become top concern for condo owners, residents


Rentals impacting quality of life, condo residents say


The view of sun-kissed tourists hanging poolside on a gorgeous South Florida day wouldn't seem out of place unless you knew The Tides isn't a hotel, it is a condominium with by-laws provided to Local 10 News by condo owners that say in no event shall any lease be for a period less than 90 days.

"If you look at VRBO, there are 143 listings. You wouldn't think of that as a condo, you think of that as a hotel," London said. "There are so many short-term renters here it just makes life difficult, challenging."

"The washing machines and dryers are always broken," London said.

Nearly everyone the Call Christina team encountered while Hassman and London took our crew for a tour of the grounds said they were visiting.

Several large groups said they were visiting from Argentina.

The Call Christina Team found more than 40 units listed on an Argentine-based website called Viajo a Miami Beach.

Canadian based Somil Corporation advertised 14 Tides units on its website.

Broward County property records confirm the company owns several units at the waterfront condominium.

The Call Christina team also checked with Broward County's Records Taxes & Treasury Division.

Director Tom Kennedy confirmed that Somil has a current account registered with the county's Tourist Development Tax Section.

In an email exchange between London and a Somil representative provided to Local 10 News by London, a company representative confirmed a rental unit reservation at The Tides for a period of eight days, which London points out is much less than the 90-day minimum as per the condo's own rules and regulations.

"That type of activity causes so much wear and tear on the building," London said.

Some of the advertised rentals say a 1-bedroom fits four; in another listing a 2-bedroom is said to sleep 6.

"Water has gone sky high, because you have six to eight people in an apartment," Hassman said.

The condo owners who spoke with Local 10 News also pointed out a tiki hut erected near one of the pools and a lobby café selling tourist sunglasses and sunhats.

"Towels, mugs, everything an owner would need right?" Hassman said.

London explained how visitors are given resort-style temporary plastic bracelets.

The moment our crews walked into the management office to inquire about the residents' concerns, like the concierge desk of a hotel, a staff member was snapping those resort-style bracelets on a couple who said they were "guests" for a couple of nights.

The Tides executive manager Eveline Smythe said she would need to get permission from her bosses for an on-camera interview, and then never returned a follow-up inquiry.

Calls and emails to the Akam management company and association attorney Marci A. Rubin went unreturned.

Also not willing to talk was resident board member and real estate broker Joe Cimino, who not only shut the door on Local 10's Christina Vazquez, but then promptly locked the door.

Requests for comment sent to Somil, Viajo a Miami Beach and VRBO were unreturned.

Airbnb tells Local 10 News that they ask all hosts to follow their local regulations to include the rules of their HOA's.


"You should not be renting to people for a one night's stay," said Hollywood Commissioner Patricia Assefff. "That is ridiculous."

Asseff also serves on the Broward County League of Cities and said coastal cities have been dealing with issues that have come about due to the vacation rental industry to include zoning, property rights and public safety.

The American Hotel and Lodging Association recently called short-term rental platforms an "illegal business," accusing them of dodging taxes and ducking rules.

"We share the concerns local residents have expressed about the growing number of commercial operators who are using sites like Airbnb to run multi-unit, full-time lodging businesses without any oversight," AHLA stated on its website.

The associates said a growing number of commercial landlords are using rental platforms to run "illegal hotels."


The cities of Fort Lauderdale, Dania Beach and Hollywood have recently created vacation rental ordinances.

The Tides, however, falls outside the scope of Hollywood's ordinance, which focuses on single-family neighborhoods.

The Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the state agency that regulates condos, tells the Call Christina team that the renting of a condo unit in and of itself is not a violation of the Florida condo act and that document enforcement falls outside the division's jurisdiction, leaving The Tides in turbulent waters of seemingly regulatory limbo.

Hassman and London said they continue to watch vans full of tourists arrive and depart from their condo building, continue to struggle finding a spot by the pool, continue to worry that their HOA dues are being siphoned to support a rental operation in violation of their association's rules, continue to deal with a board and management company seemingly unwilling to reign in the people making money from breaking the rules.

They want state regulators to step-in and take a look.

"It is a mess," Hassman said.

"It is completely frustrating," London added.

The Call Christina team has asked state regulators to investigate whether the unit owners renting their units online need to secure public lodging licenses as required by Florida law based on how the units are being advertised. We will keep you posted.