MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Apartments with windows that don’t open, sweltering conditions and charges by the city that some residents are living in an illegal rental unit.
Those were the concerns expressed by a worried renter who recently reached out to CBS4 Chief Investigator Michele Gillen asking for help.
On a recent drive with Jerry Jaramello, he pointed to his rental apartment, which he refers to as “the hole.” “Right here. Right here. See that garage? That house? That’s my house,” Jaramello said. “That’s where I live. The hole.” He’s one of an untold number of tenants who have been living in multiple dwellings carved out of a privately owned garage and house in Little Havana.
“That’s an apartment,” Gillen asked Jaramello. “Yes,” he said. “You have no window?” “Yup,” he replied. CBS4 News cameras captured conditions over the course of several weeks and in separate units. “Does this have a real door on the apartment” Gillen asked. “There is a big hole in the wall. The bucket is to go to the bathroom? How do you think people feel living here? Like a human being?” “No,” Jaramello replied. “Like a rat.”
It’s a property that’s not a secret to the City of Miami and it is on its radar screen. Week after week, as CBS4 News has been investigating questionable conditions at the property located on 1200 block of Southwest 10th Street, a City of Miami notice was posted on the property alleging a range of code violations, including illegal units, an illegal rooming house and an unsafe structure. Several weeks ago Jaramello reached out to Gillen for help for himself and his neighbors. His green apron and gait are familiar to many in Downtown Miami, where he says he’s proudly worked for 20 years as a bag boy for Publix Super Markets.
Gillen asks, “You’ve been paying rent?” “Yes!” he replied. Jaramello said he’s been paying $525 a month since last December, until this month, for his windowless garage apartment that was a sweltering box when CBS4 News entered. “I can hardly sleep,” Jaramello said. There’s no kitchen, a refrigerator stands in front of a door that leads to someone else’s apartment.
Tenant Juan Rodriguez, who has been living in what he calls an efficiency, said complaining about the living conditions has only made his life worse. After paying a security deposit, he reportedly refused to pay rent until there were improvements. His front door was removed and his water was been cut off. In July, he filed a police incident report and a complaint against his landlord with the State of Florida.
Maria Garcia Alaria, a licensed realtor, is listed on property records as the owner. “I understand you are a licensed realtor, yes” Gillen asked Alaria “Yes, I am,” she said.
“Can you explain to me how you have been renting apartments that the city says are illegal units” Gillen asked. “Absolutely no(t),” Alaria said in response to the city’s allegation that the units are illegal. “Tomorrow I have a meeting with inspectors and the police department.” She added, “The city doesn’t know that this is grandfathered in because it was built in 1937.”
Gillen showed Alaria conditions that seemed worrisome, beginning with Juan Rodriguez’s apartment. “For example, the back apartment. There is no water there,” Gillen said. “How is it allowed to have people living there with no water?” Alaria asks to be taken to the apartment with no water and when it is pointed out to her she says, “That is storage. It is no supposed to have water.”
On the night a CBS4 News camera filmed this exchange, Alaria infers she doesn’t know who Juan Rodriguez is. However, court records show that days earlier she filed papers to evict Rodriguez, who is noted as a tenant. She adds that everyone has been evicted.
While eviction actions have been filed and are being fought, Gillen met with the City of Miami and its director of Code Compliance Eli Gutierrez. Gillen asked for reaction to the owner’s claim that the city is wrong in alleging her property is an unsafe structure and that there are illegal units. “She said to me that that is not true. That the units were grandfathered in by the city. True or false,” Gillen asked Gutierrez. “That is false. The city does not do that. That is why we need to provide an inspection,” Gutierrez said. “You are saying you and your team need to go in and inspect it yourself. Why have you not done that,” Gillen asked. “The owner has not allowed us to do that. She won’t give us permission,” Gutierrez said.
The larger issue is that there are few options for low-income renters, according to Jeffrey Hearne, director of litigation for the non-profit Legal Services of Greater Miami. “Is it shocking to see some of the conditions in some of the apartments,” Gillen asked. “Shocking,” Hearne said, “but unfortunately, we see it all over the place in Miami, we see it on a daily basis in our office.” After CBS4 News shared with Hearne the story of Jaramello and Rodriguez, the non-profit represented them in their eviction proceedings. Click Here For More Information about the services provided by Legal Services of Greater Miami.