The Real Deal Miami

Fight over La Gorce Palace’s rooftop terrace incites allegations of fraud

Suit alleges condo association wants to force owner to sell because bylaws prohibit felons
By Francisco Alvarado | December 20, 2016 02:15PM

La Gorce Palace

The rooftop terrace of Miami Beach’s La Gorce Palace condominium is at the center of a nasty dispute between the owners of a penthouse and the building’s condo association involving allegations of false misrepresentation by both sides. The salacious accusations are documented in two separate lawsuits recently filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.

On Nov. 21, the La Gorce Palace Condominium Association sued husband and wife Basim and Sahar Sabri, seeking an injunction to force them to sell and move out of their two-bedroom unit.

Two weeks later, the Sabris countersued the association, seeking a judge’s order to nullify an agreement between the La Gorce Palace board of directors and their neighbor, Linda Balboa, that gave her exclusive use of the rooftop terrace outside of their penthouse. Balboa, who owns the penthouse adjacent to the Sabri’s condo, is also named as a defendant, as is Vitaly Potapenko, who sold the top-floor unit to the couple for $1.15 million in 2014.

David P. Reiner, the Sabri’s attorney, accused the condo association of filing a frivolous lawsuit to intimidate Basim Sabri from publicly speaking out against an alleged backroom deal between Balboa, the board, and its general counsel who is also a board member. “Their lawsuits are filled with a lot of half-truths,” Reiner told The Real Deal, calling the complaint a legal term known as a “strategic lawsuit against public participation.”

“It was filed for the sole purpose of harassing our client,” Reiner said. “It’s meant to shut up our client.”

Anthony Accetta, the condo association’s lawyer in the lawsuit against the Sabris, told TRD the couple left the board no other choice in seeking to kick them out of La Gorce Palace because Sahar Sabri submitted false information on the condominium association’s approval application and purchase agreement, saying that she was the sole buyer and no other adult would be living with her. The reason: Basim Sabri was convicted of felony bribery, which would have disqualified him from buying the penthouse even though the couple already owned another unit at La Gorce Palace, according to the condo association’s lawsuit and Accetta.

Accetta explained that the condo association’s bylaws prohibit felons from occupying a unit at La Gorce Palace, which is located at 6301 Collins Avenue. “The board has an obligation to protect unit owners from people who have committed felonies,” he said. “Unfortunately, through falsifications, [the Sabris] got around the rule by failing to put the husband on the forms. They knew if they had been honest from the beginning, their purchase would have been voided.”

According to the condo association’s lawsuit, the April 21, 2014 purchase agreement is only signed by Sahar Sabri. Furthermore, when she filled out the approval application a month later she listed only herself as the buyer and her children as the only other people who would reside in the unit, the lawsuit states. However, Sahar Sabri obtained a power of attorney for her husband on May 14, 2014, authorizing him to execute the closing of the penthouse. The same day, they obtained a deed listing both Sabris as the penthouse’s owners.

The lawsuit claims that it wasn’t until September 2016 that the board realized Basim Sabri was also listed on the deed and that it found out about his bribery felony conviction. Despite sending them a letter asking them to vacate and sell the penthouse without any legal action, the Sabris refuse to leave, the lawsuit alleges.

“We would have liked an amicable resolution,” Accetta said. “They are taking the bizarre position that they are above the law. Instead of working with us and conceding, they are fighting it.”

The Sabri’s lawsuit accuses the condo association of breaching the La Gorce Palace’s condo declaration by granting exclusive use of their portion of the rooftop terrace to Balboa. They claim a significant reason they wanted to buy the penthouse was to have access to the terrace. But after they moved in, the condo association informed them they were prohibited from accessing the roof area when they inquired about installing new flooring on the terrace, the Sabri’s lawsuit alleges.

That’s when the association informed the Sabris that Balboa paid $90,000 for exclusive use of the terrace and the funds were used to pay off legal bills from the law firm of Richard Alayon, the La Gorce Palace’s general counsel who is also a board member, the lawsuit states.

“A lot of crazy stuff is going on with the association,” Reiner said. “[Basim] and our law firm started raising these issues and asking for documents. Next thing that happens, we get hit with their lawsuit.”