Spared last year, Surfside condo owners hit with property tax bills totaling about $800,000

·5 min read

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

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 is 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 must 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 don’t understand why their tax bills have 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.”

Cytrynbaum’s former neighbors share his frustration.

“The property owners have been shortchanged throughout the entire case, and now telling us to pay taxes is like adding insult to injury,” said Carlos Zaidenweber, whose family owned unit 112. “It’s frustrating. Its unfair. It’s another blow.“

“Once they had the $1 billion settlement, the minimum they could have done was give the $120 million property sale proceeds to the owners,” Zaidenweber said. “The victims come first and my family is thankful to be alive, but throughout the process we were told, ‘Accept this deal now and be grateful or else,’ and in the end the owners did not receive anything close to the value of their homes.”

Now, the unit owners say they plan to write state Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Miami, to see if he can persuade state lawmakers to waive their property tax bills for this year. The Legislature must allow Miami-Dade to forgive property taxes; the county cannot do that on its own.

Attorney Michael Goldberg, the receiver for the Champlain Towers South condo association in the class-action case, said he understood the sentiments of the condo owners who lost their homes. But he stressed that Miami-Dade County has a duty under state law to assess the value of properties and collect taxes on them.

“This is no different than the sale of your property,” Goldberg said. “And when you sell your property, you have to pay your property taxes.”

Goldberg recently brought the property tax bills and other outstanding costs such as mortgages to the attention of the 136 former unit owners. In a letter, Goldberg explained they would be receiving information about their tax bills later this month and that they would have to pay them out of their settlement funds.

In an interview with the Miami Herald, Goldberg said that the Champlain Towers South unit owners always knew they would have to pay property taxes this year. He noted the bills would be prorated based on the period from January, when the county assessed the vacant Collins Avenue property, to July, when the closing of the sale was completed. The developer who recently bought the land is responsible for the balance of taxes for the rest of the year.

“Unfortunately, the property taxes are out of our hands,” Goldberg said. “It’s going to come out of the [settlement] proceeds.”

In June, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava asked DeSantis, the governor, to suspend property taxes for another year for the relatives and survivors of the Surfside calamity until the sale of the beachfront site was complete.

“We cannot wait for a legislative solution — these devastated owners need immediate executive action before [tax] notices are disseminated and property taxes are levied,” Levine Cava wrote the governor, thanking him for suspending last year’s tax bills for the Champlain Towers South unit owners.