Surfside Condo Collapse Payment Approved to Unit Owners

Judge Michael Hanzman (Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida. Getty)

Owners of Champlain Towers South units will receive an $83 million payout for the loss of their condos, a contentious outcome to the months-long dispute over how financial payouts should be divided among those who lost loved ones and those who lost their units.

Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Michael Hanzman approved the settlement Wednesday night after an emotionally charged hearing that lasted nearly four hours. Survivors and families of victims spoke out against the deal, but also recounted the horror of the night the tower collapsed and their struggle in the months that followed after losing family members, friends and neighbours.

It is the first major settlement to be approved in the case that seeks justice for the 98 people who died when the Champlain South Towers collapsed on June 24.

Hanzman said the settlement hinges on the sale of the beachfront property at 8777 Collins Avenue. An auction is set to take place in May, with the stalking horse’s bidder, Dubai-based developer Damac Properties, bidding the minimum price of $120 million.

“Hearing these stories…hearing people talk about their loved ones, it’s just brutal on so many levels. On top of that, we have people who have lost their homes,” Hanzman said. ‘A court must decide matters not based on feelings, not based on views or emotions. I must decide cases based on the law.

The money, which would come from sources such as insurance and the future sale of the site, would be divided among the owners of the 136 units according to their percentage interest in the building, according to the declaration of co-ownership. In exchange, unit owners would be released from any potential liability in the collapse. A state law states that condo owners could be charged up to the value of their unit in events such as a collapse.

Still, unit owners have the right to opt out of the settlement in an effort to receive a higher payment, but would also be subject to liability under state law.

Hanzman will not deduct any insurance disbursements unit owners may have received to date from their own private property policies. He said homeowners should not be penalized for deciding to take out their own policy. Additionally, Hanzman will not deduct payouts from life insurance policies when it comes time for payouts to those who have lost loved ones, he said.

From the total settlement, Hanzman deducted $750,000 to cover land maintenance costs accrued thus far, as well as receivership costs and legal fees.

The $83 million deal was reached after months of negotiations with court-appointed mediator Bruce Greer.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Hanzman heard moving testimony from family members of the victims, as well as unit owners who are dealing with the trauma of surviving the collapse.

Eileen Rosenberg, who lost her 26-year-old daughter in the tragedy, said she was sensitive to the economic loss for unit owners, but argued it was right to compensate the families of the first. deceased victims.

“My pain is unbearable. I constantly suffer. My heart is breaking into a million pieces and is beyond repair. My precious daughter unknowingly entered a neglected and poorly maintained building, which tragically caused her life,” said Rosenberg, whose daughter was a visitor to the building.

“When you invest and lose money, you move on. When you lose a child, you can’t move on,” she added.

Tali Naibryf, whose brother Ilan died while visiting his girlfriend in the building, urged the judge to cap the allowance for unit owners at $83 million and make that allowance dependent on the sale of the land.

“My brother was invited into the building, unaware of any damage, and paid the ultimate price,” she said.

Unit owners who spoke challenged the court’s classification of the ‘material and economic loss category’, saying they had also lost friends and neighbors and were struggling with trauma.

“I live with this every night when I go to sleep and when I wake up,” said Raysa Rodriguez, who lived in a ninth-floor unit and was able to get out of the building after the collapse.

They also spoke out against state law that exposes them to liability if they opt out of the settlement, saying they feel they are responsible for the building’s alleged lack of maintenance, and therefore also collapse.

Champlain condo owner Deborah Soriano, who escaped from her 11th-floor unit the night of the collapse, said she received a notice about the state law at her office.

“Yes, I felt like a real criminal. When did [we], the victims, turn into criminals? she told the court. “What did we really do wrong?” None of us in this building would ever put our life or our lives in danger.

Some unit owners also argued that the settlement was not enough for them to buy a new home, similar to the one they had in Champlain, especially given the high housing costs in South Florida. Many have been forced into renting at a time when the multifamily market has seen rents soar.

Hanzman, who said state law does not assign fault to unit owners, but simply subordinates their equity, pushed back against claims that owners are harmed.

“The claim that they are victimized and penalized and need more money, that falls on deaf ears,” the judge told the court. Unit owners may not be able to buy a home in Miami Beach or Surfside, but the payout offers them payment, as well as “certainty,” he said.

Hanzman also encouraged those opposing the settlement to consider the alternative of allowing the case to run its course in court before disbursements are awarded.

“This attribution issue would take at least four to five years to work its way through the courts,” Hanzman said. “During this period, people in the economy would not receive a dime of compensation and neither would the wrongful death class.”

Hanzman oversaw the litigation surrounding the collapse.

Last month, survivors and families of victims of the Surfside condo collapse sued the condominium association of the neighboring property, Eighty Seven Park, and other companies involved in the construction of this luxury condo tower. next to.

The filing, which marks the third amended complaint, alleges that the former president of the Eighty Seven Park condo association knew or had reason to know of the damage the construction allegedly caused Champlain, and that the companies involved in the construction were negligent in their work. The former president of the condominium association worked for Terra, the main developer of Eighty Seven Park.

Morabito Consultants, the engineering firm that Champlain hired for his 40-year inspection and which oversaw the restoration, as well as the Champlain association’s law firm, Becker & Poliakoff, recently settled their part of the dispute through mediation. for $16 million and $31 million, respectively.

“I know there’s a lot of hard feelings in this case,” Hanzman said. “There is obviously some unease, and that makes it even more apparent that this is a fair and proper settlement, because the settlement is a compromise.”