Construction firms sue each other over delays and problems at Civic Towers

Subcontractors accuse Peter Vicari General Contractor of fraudulently obtaining a general contractor’s license in Florida

Civic Towers
Civic Towers

The woes for the owners of two federally subsidized apartment buildings damaged by Hurricane Irma keep piling up. Construction firms involved in the renovation of Civic Towers in Miami’s Allapattah neighborhood have now filed dueling lawsuits against one another that allege fraud and other shenanigans.

Coastal Maintenance and Restoration and Coastal Pre-Fab, two companies that share the same Naples address, sued Peter Vicari General Contractor LLC of Harvey, Louisiana, and its insurer, Allied World Insurance Company, earlier this month in Miami-Dade Circuit Court. The Coastal entities allege Peter Vicari committed fraud in obtaining the firm’s Florida general contractor’s license and was woefully inexperienced to handle the $39 million restoration job.

Also named as defendants: Civic Towers LLLP and Civic Towers Senior LLLP, the two affiliates of Burlingame,-California-based Redwood Housing Partners, the company that bought the mid-rise towers for $45 million in February. In addition, Coastal Maintenance and Coastal Pre-Fab filed liens for a combined $1.6 million in unpaid work against the twin Section 8 properties, which are located at 1855 Northwest 15th Avenue and 1900 Northwest 14th Street.

Civic Towers made headlines when 80 tenants who had been forced to evacuate the buildings prior to Hurricane Irma hitting South Florida. After the storm passed, Miami building officials ruled that water damage had made the towers uninhabitable. For days, the residents were living in cars parked outside the buildings until the owners were able to relocate them to hotels. Some 130 tenants had been moved months earlier when the renovations began.

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According to the latest lawsuit, Vicari hired the Coastal firms to demolish and replace exterior wall panels with new pre-manufactured panels made by the companies. The subcontractors accuse Vicari of fraudulently obtaining a general contractor’s license in Florida by falsifying information on an application submitted to the Florida Department of Professional Regulation. Specifically, Vicari claimed to have had experience doing construction work on buildings that are four stories or more, which was not true, the lawsuit alleges.

Despite the false information, the department rejected Vicari’s application on Sept. 22, 2016 because the firm had not demonstrated enough experience, the subcontractors allege. Coastal Maintenance and Coastal Prefab claim Vicari made more false statements when it resubmitted its application and that Civic Towers ownership knew the general contractor did not have the necessary experience to work in Florida, according to the suit.

The subcontractors did not find out about Vicari’s allegedly fraudulent application until after getting into a dispute with the general contractor over its handling of the project, the lawsuit states. Things fell apart in May when Vicari tried to pressure Coastal Maintenance and Coastal Pre-Fab to accelerate its work, falsely accusing them of being behind schedule and threatening to make claims against their surety bonds.

Meanwhile, Vicari responded by suing Coastal Maintenance and Coastal Pre-Fab in Miami federal court. The general contractor accused the subcontractors of breaching its agreements by failing to install the new panels, which caused damage to other pre-existing portions of the buildings. Vicari also accused the Coastal firms of wrongfully stopping work on the project and failing to provide sufficient labor to install the panels.

Vicari said in the suit that it terminated the subcontractors for cause on June 26 and that it has suffered “consequential damages,” including extended overhead and lost profits.