Florida judge steps in as Surfside condo owners hit with enormous property tax bills

Surfside, Florida - When a Surfside condominium tower collapsed last year killing 98 people, a wave of sympathy reached all the way to Tallahassee: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and state legislators forgave the unit owners’ tax bills, totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Search and rescue personnel work to find any survivors or casualties in the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside, Florida.
Search and rescue personnel work to find any survivors or casualties in the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside, Florida.  © JOE RAEDLE / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

Their generosity, however, did not extend to this year.

Soon, tax bills will be sent to the 136 unit owners at Champlain Towers South – based on their share of the value of the nearly two-acre oceanfront site, according to the Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser’s Office. The vacant land is assessed at $41.3 million, bringing the total property tax bill to $787,000.

The average individual bill will be about $5,785, though each condo owner’s taxes will vary depending on the unit size.

For many unit owners, it was the second time they feel like they’ve gotten a raw deal. In May, they said they were pressured into settling their property losses for $96 million in a class-action case, complaining that the compensation undervalued their units. Their initial frustration was also fueled by the $1-billion settlement for the relatives of the 98 people who died in the collapse last June.

"It doesn’t sit well with owners, who are also victims, that not only did we receive a reduced settlement amount and the lowest settlement amount, and now you’re coming after us to pay property taxes, too?" said Oren Cytrynbaum, a lawyer whose family owned two Champlain Towers South units but who was not present on the night of the 12-story building’s collapse.

"We’re grateful for the settlement, but for a lot of owners that additional $5,000-$7,000 deduction makes a difference in our lives," he said, noting that the tax payment was expected to come out of each owner’s share of the $96 million settlement. "It’s not trivial to us. That could cover a few extra months’ rent or other bills that owners are paying for 14 months of displacement from their homes."

Cytrynbaum said that he and others didn’t understand why their tax bills had to be paid out of their settlement and not out of the balance of the funds from the sale of the land at 8777 Collins Ave. The site was sold for $120 million to a wealthy Middle Eastern developer, who closed on the purchase in late July.

"Owners are receiving a settlement for the loss of their homes – not the proceeds from the sale of the property," he said. "We do not think the burden of property taxes should be placed on owners when we are not receiving the full sale price."

Judge steps in to offer relief

After condo owners raised their concerns, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman stepped in to grant tax breaks in the case.

The property taxes will now have to be paid out of the $120-million sale of the land.

Cytrynbaum was quick to respond to the good news."Everyone is grateful and relieved that the judge acted swiftly to do the right thing that makes the most sense," he told the Miami Herald on Monday. "The owners are not trying to be difficult, but felt that paying property taxes was an additional unfair burden when that money could be recovered from the property sale proceeds."

"We know how hard the judge, receiver and attorneys are working to resolve all matters of the case."

Cover photo: JOE RAEDLE / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

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