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There’s another side of Coconut Grove getting wiped out

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Renescha Coats is a lifelong Coconut Grove resident and tenant in South Winds Apartments in West Grove, which is now slated for demolition. She wrote in partnership with Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc. Attorney Guerby Noel to represent the views of the South Winds tenants.

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South Winds Apartments is located at 3410 Hibiscus Street on a road that leads directly to Cocowalk. It is a building of working citizens, the elderly, and the disabled.  This building was once filled with 28 families, but has now been cut to 11 families — families that have lived in the building, and the Grove, for their entire lives.

I work at the local Publix, and see the new faces that are coming into the community everyday. I am bothered by the fact that we will one day no longer be a part of this community. South Winds is crumbling underneath us — the roof is caving in, raw sewage seeps into the courtyard, and the general upkeep of the building has been abandoned by the landlord. And now we’re getting kicked out.

South Winds is owned by Bimini Development of Village West Corporation, which is made up of Julio Marrero, Esq., Orlando Benitez, and Phillip Muskat. The property has been subject to several City of Miami code violations. On April 27, 2015, the landlord received the first Repair or Demolish Notice. On Jan. 29, 2016, a hearing was held in front of the City of Miami Unsafe Structures Panel. Once again, the landlord was ordered to make the necessary repairs or demolish the property within 120 days. The landlord ignored this and continued to collect our rent without making repairs. All this time, we knew nothing about the impending demolition.

On June 10, 2016, City of Miami officials posted demolition notices on our doors, stating that the building would be demolished in 15 days, even if our personal possessions were in the building. We were all in shock and disbelief because many of us had recently paid rent for June and July. We were all calling the property manager, Sajay Marquez, to see if this was really happening. When he finally answered, he was giving everyone different answers. Now he’s given us eviction notices so that the demolition can happen. We later found out that they knew about what was going on for more than a year.

Under Florida law, the landlord is required to provide us with a safe and habitable unit that complies with building and housing codes. We have all complained about our units and the building to Sajay. Because of the raw sewage seeping into the ground, my kids can’t play outside. My dog can’t go outside without getting sick. We can’t even get to our car without the kids stepping in the raw sewage. It takes a whole week or longer for the property manager to address the problems. When they do something, it’s a temporary fix. Then we have the problem of overflowing garbage sitting in the bin for weeks, often falling onto our back porches, because the landlord has neglected to make his monthly payments to the city for trash pickup.

Many of our homes have mold and mildew due to the damaged roof and leaking A/C units. In our apartments, the question is not “Do you have water damage?” — it is when you will have it. Recently the landlord cut the wires to the security lights for our building. At night, the courtyard and surrounding area is pitch black. Many of us work and come home late and can’t even see the keyhole of our doors.

I have heard people say, “Why would people want to live like that?” or “Why won’t they move and find something better?” Truth is Miami, especially Coconut Grove, is not affordable for the average working citizen. In the West Grove, there are no affordable units that I can rent where I don’t have to worry about a slumlord. The only affordable units are located in Homestead, Perrine, Florida City, and Goulds. These are all communities that are away from our families, our children’s schools, our doctors, and our jobs. On top of that, many landlords are either overcharging or refusing to sign an annual lease agreement. Who wants to give someone thousands of dollars without the protection of a lease agreement? We are not asking for much but to be treated with respect and in line with the law.

On July 15, 2016, the City of Miami filed a lawsuit against the landlord. The City claims they want the landlord to provide us with relocation funds. We haven’t received any of that, and now the landlord is now evicting us. Why are we required to follow the law, but the landlord isn’t?

There has been talk of the Coconut Grove that we love is getting wiped out. But no one is mentioning the tenants of the Grove. We are the forgotten.  The City has known about what has been happening at our building and 11 other buildings, and has done nothing. We have upheld our duties as tenants, but the landlord has continually ignored the law with no consequence. Now we stand to be removed from our lifelong community. That is unfair and unjust. The City failed us. Commissioner Russell failed us. Commissioner Suarez failed us. Hopefully our situation can help shed a light on a recurring, and avoidable problem in the City of Miami.

Ariel is the executive editor of The New Tropic.
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