Investor take-overs and Florida law have residents fearful of losing homes [7-21-15]
Article Courtesy of Channel 25 Palm Beach
By Terri Parker
Published July 20, 2015
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. —Ed Grossman retired to Century Village over a decade ago for the weather and the comradery of other retirees, nestled in 7,000 apartments behind the security of manned guard gates.
But now, he and his neighbors are fearful.
“This is an outright attempt and an attack on the nature of Century Village and the quality of life,” said Grossman.
“I think yeah, our lifestyle could change completely,” agreed Jean Dowling.
“We’ve really felt so alone here, in this mess,” said Nancy Salmi.
The threat? Investors snapping up empty units by the hundreds at rock-bottom prices, often renting them out, and not just to retirees.
“They see it as prime pickings for coming in and taking over. Older people are traditionally easier to scam or to take advantage of,” said Jean Dowling.
What’s happening particularly in building Sheffield O has much of the community on edge and wondering if they’re next.
Nancy Salmi has lived in Sheffield O for 11 years.
“Well, this would certainly make you feel fearful,” said Salmi, brandishing a letter she received in March from a fellow unit owner there.
Donald Kelly, who is also president of the Sheffield O Condo Association, penned the letter.
In it, he writes: “I am in the process of taking steps to dissolve the association of Sheffield O whereby all of the apartments that I do not own would be forced to sell to me at the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s value.”
“The way he puts it, ‘you’ll be forced to sell to me,’ I mean, that’s really a threat,” said Salmi.
Kelly is a Palm Beach Gardens investor, who owns 15 units in the building, and according to Salmi, has power of attorney in two more.
Salmi says under Florida law, if you own 80 percent of a building, you can force the other owners to sell at the property appraisers value, which for Salmi is $7,000 less than she owes the bank.
Salmi said she has nowhere else to go, and doesn’t want to leave her apartment.
According to Grossman, Kelly needs to buy four more condos before he could ostensibly take over the building and force the others out.
WPBF 25 News tried to contact Kelly but he didn’t return our calls. His bookkeeper lives in Sheffield O; she said to call his lawyer.
That attorney, Richard Cohen said he could not comment at this time.
Salmi and others said Kelly has rented to people for as little as two weeks, and to people under 55, which is against the rules.
And Grossman, who publishes a newsletter called the CV Messenger, has been alerting homeowners that Kelly and others, are also renting to the recently homeless.
Ezra Krieg, the director of the Philip D. Lewis Center, a homeless resource center admitted to WPBF 25 News some of their clients have ended up in Century Village, by responding to ads in Craigslist.
“It’s not to knock homeless or people down on their luck,” said Grossman, “but this village was set up not to be a rental community but to be a summer or a full time home for people in retirement.”
Dowling said the influx of transient people, people under 55, and the recently homeless is not only jeopardizing their lifestyle, but causing fear of crime. She said the building across the street from her recently was broken into twice. Now, she’s doing all she can to stop the investor take overs.
“I’ve worked hard to make this building and my home nice for me,” said Dowling. “And I hoped the rest of my life would be spent there, so yeah, I do care.”
WPBF 25 News reached out to the founder of Century Village, Irwin Levy, and his son Mark, who still runs the day-to-day operations of the Village, for their reaction to the fears of residents, and to the Sheffield O controversy. They did not return calls.
The law was originally intended to let investors take over hurricane damaged buildings that had been mostly abandoned, but is being used all over the state by people who see it as a money making opportunity.
Governor Rick Scott recently amended the law to require investors to pay homesteaded owners their full purchase price, but, they can still be forced out under the right circumstances.