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“They just keep asking for more and more money,” said Nancy Garcia, a long-time resident of Parker Plaza Condominiums, located on the shore of Hallandale Beach. ”What do they think this is? This is not a high-class neighborhood, this is a place for middle-class workers.”
Parker Plaza opened in 1971. It was designed by perhaps the region’s most famous architect, Morris Lapidus, who’s also known for his work on hotels such as Miami Beach’s Fontainebleau and the famous Lincoln Road Mall.
The 22-floor building, with 520 units and beautiful ocean views, now suffers serious problems. In 2017, the board of directors asked for a special assessment of almost $5 million to restore the balconies. They started work on the north, south, and east sides of the building, closing off the balconies and in some cases covering windows with plywood. After two years, work is yet to be finished in many units. Only the residents facing west, where the work never started, have balcony access.
“At that time, I paid $10,000 and now they want to hire a new company to finish the repairs while asking for an additional $22,000. At first, I thought the amount included the initial $10,000 that I had already paid, but it turns out it did not,” explained Garcia.
Property owner Manuel Quiñones said he doesn’t understand how the board of directors ignored construction problems. Quiñones explained that the board did not obtain a security bond in order to secure their investment. “One of the directors did not want to purchase it because it would cost more money. My question is when you purchase a car, do you avoid getting insurance because its an additional cost?” he said.
The “problems” came soon after the construction company, Custom Group, started the work. The balconies were more deteriorated than the original engineer’s survey had estimated, said the president of Custom Group, Alan Mosher. The claim was confirmed by Bob Perlman, who was president of the Parker Plaza board of directors at that time.
Though the original cost estimate was $3.36 million, the new engineer’s estimate soon reached $5 million. The board, it turns out, had requested the construction company to increase the scope of the work on the balconies several times. This is documented in work orders provided by Mosher and approved by the board’s engineer.
As a result, Custom Group doubled its force from 20 to 40 workers and started working simultaneously in several phases. “We did what they asked us to do,” said Mosher.
Soon they encountered another issue: many balcony sliding doors had been improperly installed nine years ago. “We had to slow down all our work for weeks to wait for the window experts,” said Mosher.
By February 2018, the board signed another extension with Custom Group, the documents show. The deadlines kept being extended as the board requested Custom Group to restore the two circular stair towers and to reinstall 80 to 85 sliding doors.
These days, residents are suffering. “The past project ended up becoming a great sacrifice. Nobody can enjoy the balcony. We have been locked up for two years. There is no parking. The windows are falling apart. Everything is deteriorated,” said resident Elisa Ruiz, who lives there with her husband, who’s in an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s, and her 90-year-old mother.
In meetings with property owners, the Parker Plaza board of directors said that Custom Group left the work half done because of its financial difficulties. More than four property owners clearly recalled the board telling them that the company had gone bankrupt.
“I got sick. I went through cancer, 41 days of therapy, but I never filed for bankruptcy,” said Mosher. After denying entry to Custom Group workers in February, the board ended up sending a notice of termination on March 4, 2019.
According to Mosher, the first week of January, he met with the board to request a $194,000 advance from Parker Plaza for work already done. Although the directors agreed with the demand, the check never arrived. “All the minutes of the board’s weekly meetings were carefully recorded by board secretary, Linda Lustig. All is there,” Mosher added.
The board soon learned Custom Group was in debt to contractors and on January 31, 2019, Perlman announced to residents that Custom Group had “an ongoing legal issue.”
“I think it was an excuse to get rid of us and take our money,” said Mosher, who claims he is owed more than $300,000 for work already done.
The notice of termination included a letter from the engineer with five lines saying that Custom Group was “not pursuing the work with such diligence as to ensure completion within the timeline specified by the contract.”
“Sometimes when you win a project, it can be your worst nightmare,” said Mosher.
Jose Sardiña, one of the owners with extensive construction knowledge, identified two problems: obsolete chillers and a roof that is now 25 years old. There is also a parking garage that urgently needs work.
Michael Fagan, owner of four apartments in the building and a board member, said the building is suffering chronic problems, so more money is needed. The directors recently pushed for a new assessment of $10 million.
“The main problem we have is mistrust of the board” affirmed resident José Espinel. “Why is it that they are requesting an additional $10 million to complete a project that was contractually set to cost $5 million? It is very questionable.”
Maria Inés Marino is a resident who started organizing the neighbors last month to request accountability from the board of directors. At the last board meeting, she said, ”we questioned them so hard that the assessment was not approved.”
She hopes, however, that the board will soon provide property owners with enough information for a vote. South Florida Media Network contacted Rafael Collazo, the current president of the Parker Plaza board of directors, several times, but he did not respond.
“All these elderly people live on a fixed income. Where are they going to get money to pay more and more each time? … I stopped working because I became ill. I had to go back to work even though I was still in pain from surgery just so I could keep up with payments,” said García.
Meanwhile, the commission that regulates condominiums in Broward County recommends staying calm. It has assigned an investigator to review the complaints.