Two years after being restored, a 1920s Neoclassical building that once housed the Cuban consulate in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood is at the center of an ugly legal dispute between local art dealer Martin Siskind and his brother, Richard.
According to a recently filed lawsuit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, Martin Siskind wants to sell the Paula Villa property at 5811 North Miami Avenue so that he can use the proceeds for a life-saving gallbladder surgery and pay off a promissory note on the property. However, his brother Richard — who holds title to the property — is refusing to cooperate, the complaint alleges. Martin Siskind, along with the note holder Raymond Klein, are suing Richard and his company 5811 Investment Group for breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty. They are also seeking an injunction to force Richard into agreeing to the sale of Paula Villa.
Javier Rodriguez, an attorney for Richard, declined comment. “It is an unfortunate dispute among family members that we are hopeful will be resolved in the short term for the benefit of all involved,” said Mark Kamilar, lawyer for Siskind and Klein.
Paula Villa was built in 1926 by the Cuban government using Cuban labor and all materials, according to a July 2015 NBC 6 report. Paula Milord, the wife of the Cuban consul and namesake of the villa, is buried in the backyard.
According to the complaint, Martin Siskind and a group of investors purchased the property in 2003 and he has been “its caretaker, and advanced substantial sums for the renovation of Paula Villa from 2004 to the present.” Martin Siskind has been using the former consulate building as an art gallery that displayed several Picassos, a Renoir sketch, a painting by Alexander Calder, and many pieces by Cuban artists.
In 2014, Martin Siskind settled a separate lawsuit with his partners by buying them out using loans provided by Klein and his brother Richard. While the property is being used as a gallery, the 75-year-old art maven always intended to sell Paula Villa so that he could use the money from the sale to pay for his care and provide an inheritance for his children, the lawsuit states. Richard agreed to act as his brother’s trustee and he set up 5811 Investment Group to purchase the property in 2016 for $500,000.
The lawsuit claims that Martin Siskind’s health has deteriorated in recent months and he wants to sell. However, Richard doesn’t want to, “citing unrelated issues between the two brothers including back to childhood.”
Moreover, Richard has indicated that he no longer intends to honor his brother’s wishes and will do with the property as he sees fit, the lawsuit alleges.