The Real Deal Miami

The 10 juiciest real estate lawsuits of 2017

From stalkers and rats to sweetheart deals, the year was filled with accusations of shady behavior.

From left to right: Jason Halpern, Avra Jain, Stephen Tulloch and Gil Dezer (Credit: Dezer Development, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain Pictures, Miami Foundation)

Accusations of backstabbing, disputes over multimillion-dollar deals, undisclosed vermin problems and many other allegations of shady behavior involving South Florida real estate developers, brokers and buyers made headlines in 2017.

Lucky for you, The Real Deal was there to document all the salaciousness. Here’s a look back at the juiciest litigation of the past year.

1.) A murderous stalker and other “extreme behavior” at Trump Palace

Fed up with a neighbor’s alleged bizarre antics, luxury condo developer Gil Dezer sued fellow Trump Palace resident Rhonda Hojandiov on Nov. 27 in Miami-Dade Circuit Court to get a permanent injunction against her. Dezer accuses Hojandiov, who owns a three-bedroom unit on the eighth floor of the Sunny Isles Beach tower he developed, of disrupting the “peaceful use and quiet enjoyment” of his Trump Palace penthouse. The complaint alleges condo property management has documented 61 reports of extreme behavior by Hojandiov, including claims that an unknown stalker had gained access to her condo and was attempting to kill her. Dezer wants an injunction prohibiting her from “acting in an inappropriate manner and otherwise interfering with the operations of the association and its employees.”

2.) Avra’s revenge

Eleven months after a judge ordered she pay an $8.2 million judgment to an ex-partner, Avra Jain went after her lawyers for nearly double that amount in damages. On Nov. 20, the developer behind the Vagabond Hotel and Bayside Motor Inn restoration projects in Miami’s MiMo District sued Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney and shareholder Richard A. Morgan for malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty. Jain alleges Morgan failed to adequately defend her, investor Paul Cashman Murphy and H-G Investments LLC in a 2009 lawsuit brought by former business associate Abraham Cohen, who claimed he was owed more than $4 million for a planned luxury condo project in Doral they were involved in. Jain is seeking $15 million from Morgan and his firm to cover the judgment, expenses and damages from the Cohen case.

3.) Hoodwinked by Halpern

In a lawsuit filed in New York Supreme Court, investor Dhruv Piplani accused developer Jason Halpern of unfairly cutting him out of a real estate transaction for two Miami Beach properties at 2901 and 2911 Indian Creek Drive. While he was in India following his mother’s death, Piplani claims Halpern sold off the Indian Creek lots to his longtime business colleague, Gerard Longo, in a sweetheart deal. Piplani accuses Halpern of rejecting his offer of $9 million in 2016 for the properties so the latter could sell to Brooklyn-based Longo, who paid $7.75 million in January. The complaint alleges that Halpern had struck a “secret side deal with Longo, under which Halpern will become re-involved with the Indian Creek project or otherwise be kicked back benefits from the eventual development and resale” of the two properties. In a statement, JMH denied the allegations. Piplani is demanding at least $10 million in damages, to rescind the sale of the Indian Creek properties, and to restore his membership and management rights, among other requests.

4.) Ex-NFLer tackles broker’s conflict

Stephen Tulloch — a former player for the Tennessee Titans, Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles — accused Fort Lauderdale broker Jaime Sturgis and his former employer, Metro 1, of failing to disclose an apparent conflict of interest when Tulloch bought a downtown Fort Lauderdale office building in January. According to a June 8 lawsuit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, Tulloch’s company SMT Investments, which purchased the three-story building at 727 Northeast Third Avenue for $1.42 million, alleges that Metro 1 and Sturgis failed to disclose during negotiations and closing that the seller, AJAX FTL, was owned by Sturgis’ in-laws. Metro 1’s Jenny Arias represented Tulloch and AJAX was represented by Sturgis, who was employed by Metro 1 until May. The lawsuit also claims AJAX made a $500,000 profit from the sale to SMT. All parties reached a settlement agreement in November and the complaint was dismissed.

5.) Airbnb declares war on City of Miami

In April, five Miami homeowners and Airbnb sued the City of Miami to stop officials from enforcing bans on short-term rentals and for targeting Airbnb hosts who publicly identified themselves. The lawsuit was filed in response to public comments by then-Mayor Tomas Regalado and then-City Manager Daniel Alfonso that Miami code enforcers would issue notices of violations to homeowners who outed themselves as Airbnb hosts during a March city commission hearing. According to the lawsuit filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, cities and counties are prohibited from enacting legislation that bans or or unduly regulates vacation rentals under a 2011 state law. However, Miami government officials bowed to pressure from the hotel industry, ignored state law and without legal authority began prohibiting vacation rentals on Aug. 11, 2015. The lawsuit claims Regalado followed through on his threat in early April, when he declared several people had received notice of violations during a local television newscast.

6.) Sixty Sixty Resort’s $9.4M conundrum

Port Orange, Florida-based Schecher Group is not playing around when it comes to collecting $9.4 million in assessments allegedly owed by unit owners at the Sixty Sixty Resort condo-hotel in Miami Beach. Between December 2016 and October of this year, the company filed foreclosure lawsuits against 65 individuals and companies that own rooms at the 6060 Indian Creek Drive property. According to legal documents filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, Schecher is empowered to make and collect assessments for shared costs as the owner of Sixty Sixty’s hotel unit. The lawsuits and liens filed by Schecher said each of the delinquent owners owed tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid assessments. Many of the owners are fighting back and accused Schecher of attempting a hostile takeover of the units in order to sell the entire building as a hotel for a massive profit.

7.) Rundle’s rodent problem

A few days after moving into his waterfront condominium in Coral Gables, Justin Rundle began hearing noises throughout the night and noticed a noxious odor permeating his unit. He soon discovered that rodents had infiltrated his condo, along with rotting rat carcasses, urine, feces and rodent nests throughout the walls, the drop ceiling and the AC system, according to an Aug. 11 lawsuit he filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court against the previous owner, Jeanie Fung, listing agent Francine Thomas and Coconut Grove-based brokerage Brown Harris Stevens | Avatar Real Estate Services. Rundle, the son of Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, accused Fung, Thomas and the brokerage of breach of contract and several counts of fraud and negligence. He purchased the two-bedroom unit in Waters Edge of Coral Gables at 100 Edgewater Drive for $383,000 in July 2016. Rundle claims Fung and Thomas violated Florida law by not telling him about the rodent problem and that they represented that the unit was in good condition.

8.) Tenants at Bayside Marketplace strike back

Two retailers and two restaurant operators accused the owners of Bayside Marketplace of fraud, breach of contract and fraudulent inducement in attempting to kick them out of the open-air shopping mall, according to separate counterclaims and responses to eviction lawsuits filed during the first 10 months of 2017. Sporting-goods shop Miami Waves accused Bayside Marketplace LLC of inducing tenants into entering leases under “knowingly false representations” and making material and costly improvements to their spaces “under broken and avoided promises,” documents filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court show. Sushi bar Maki’s Place claimed it signed a lease for a 671-square-foot space on Oct. 8, 2013, but was not able to open until two years later due to delays and modifications caused by Bayside Marketplace that led to the restaurant failing and being forced to vacate its space in November 2016. John Cherneski, an attorney for Bayside, said complaints by Miami Waves, Maki’s Place and other disgruntled operators are bogus, accusing them of trying to “avoid their contractual obligations.” Bayside is owned by New York City-based Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp. and General Growth Partners.

9.) Comras combats predatory lending

S&C Venture, a company controlled by commercial real estate developer Michael Comras, sued a New Jersey-based real estate financing firm that took over a loan that was the subject of a failed foreclosure action. According to a May 26 lawsuit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, S&C Venture is suing Coconut Grove Acquisition, an affiliate of Rochelle Park, N.J.-based Case Real Estate Capital, for malicious prosecution and breach of contract for attempting to foreclose on a three-story, 36,230-square-foot retail building at 2982 Grand Avenue owned by Comras. Coconut Grove Acquisitions bought a $7.9 million promissory note from Stabilis Capital in 2014, after S&C originally took out the note in 2007. According to the complaint, Stabilis used predatory lending practices in an attempt to find S&C in default. When Coconut Grove Acquisitions took over the loan, the company continued a foreclosure lawsuit against S&C. A judge dismissed the foreclosure action, but Coconut Grove Acquisition continued to demand that S&C’s loan payoff amount was $15 million, including $10 million in default interest charges.

10.) Can’t spell Cassa using Assa

In September, New York-based Assa Properties accused Miami-based TSG Paragon Development and 18 other related companies of trademark infringement, unjust enrichment and consumer fraud, among other claims. According to its complaint in the U.S. Southern District of New York, Assa wanted to stop TSG from using “Cassa” in its branding of two residential projects in Pembroke Pines and Miami. Assa’s lawsuit states the company began using “Cassa” in 2007 as a combination of the Spanish word “casa” and the firm’s name for several of its hotels in New York. In 2012, TSG Paragon Development launched Cassa at Georgetown and Cassa Brickell using the same design as Assa’s brand in advertising and marketing materials, the lawsuit alleges. TSG and its affiliates continued using Cassa in its marketing materials despite receiving three cease-and-desist letters.