Opera Tower condo association sues Airbnb amid short-term rental crackdown

The condo board is also accusing two tenants of ignoring demands to stop offering units for rent via Airbnb

Opera Tower (Wikipedia, Airbnb)
Opera Tower (Wikipedia, Airbnb)

Opera Tower’s status as a short-term rental hotspot appears to be coming to an end. Amid a crackdown on tenants making money off subletting units on a nightly basis, the Miami tower’s condo association is suing Airbnb and two individuals who allegedly refused to stop renting to out-of-town guests.

“It’s been a problem for a while and it got out of control,” said Jose Baloyra, the condo association’s attorney. “The Covid-19 situation brought it to a head. The quality of life in the building has been impacted by all these transients.”

About 200 condos in the 56-story, 665-unit condominium at 1750 North Bayshore Drive in Miami are available for daily and short-term rentals, but each condo must abide by local and state zoning regulations, according to the lawsuit filed in August in Miami-Dade Circuit Court against Airbnb.

An Airbnb spokesperson did not specifically comment on the lawsuit, but said in an emailed statement that the company is addressing the complaints from the condo association with hosts who have been using the online booking platform to advertise units at Opera Tower.

“All Airbnb users agree to comply with applicable laws and regulations, including their HOA and condo board regulations,” the statement said. “It’s important for our hosts to be good neighbors and we have shared the Opera Tower Association’s concerns with members of our host community.”

The condo association claims that the building has a certificate of occupancy for multifamily use, but not for lodging. Early last month, before the lawsuit was filed, the city of Miami sent the condo association a cease and desist letter that stated Opera Tower was under investigation for allowing lodging without going through the permitting process to allow daily and short-term rentals.

According to the complaint against Airbnb, Opera Tower is now subject to fines and legal proceedings as a result of “the illegal business practices of Airbnb” and turned the building into “a defacto unlicensed hotel.”

The condo association alleges that a search for the property on Airbnb yields 300-plus stays, but that individuals listing the units don’t use their full names or real names so the condo board cannot know who is subletting.

Since 2018, the condo association’s janitorial, security and insurance costs have increased by $853,000 annually in order to deal with short-term renters in the building, according to the suit. For instance, Opera Tower hires off-duty police officers to assist on the weekends when short-term rental activity is at its peak, and to help respond to late night parties, loud music and physical and verbal confrontations.

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The complaint claims the building has been the source of more than 397 calls to 911 between June 2017 and June 2020, and that there have been numerous crimes committed on the property, including alleged incidents of robberies, assualt and rape.

The condo association accused Airbnb of refusing to terminate agreements with Opera Tower hosts who violate the company’s terms of service and that Airbnb also won’t take down listings advertising units in the building.

Short-term rental entrepreneurs are not just using Airbnb to lease Opera Tower condos. A Google search for “short-term rentals at Opera Tower” turned up 119 listings on multiple online lodging platforms. On Booking.com, a listing for “BiBo Rentals at Opera Tower” shows a studio for rent at $150 a night for the entire month of October. Another listing posted on TripAdvisor.com is offering a one-bedroom condo at $165 a night the rest of this month and all of next month. The first two words in the ad’s header are Opera Tower. Most of the listings don’t mention the name of the building, but photos of the units depicted are in Opera Tower.

The condo association is also suing Lazaro Manuel Vento, owner of Happy Travels Miami, and Olga Suarez, owner of Suarez Group Hotels Corp, for allegedly violating lease agreements tied to a penthouse unit and a 15h floor unit, respectively. But association lawyer Baloyra said they advertised more than one unit on Airbnb. “Between these two tenants, they had nine units,” said the condo association’s lawyer Baloyra.

In separate phone interviews, Vento and Suarez said they did not know they were being sued, and they both insisted they had permission from the building’s management to conduct short-term rentals. The Miami-Dade Circuit Court docket shows neither has been served.

“I met with the association, and as long as I moved out of the units, they weren’t going to sue,” Vento said. “The lawsuit is pointless because I already moved out of the penthouse unit.”

Saurez claimed she only does month-to-month rentals. “I stopped doing short-term rentals a long time ago,” she said. “I will have to go to the management office and find out what is going on. This really takes me by surprise.”

Baloyra disputed Vento’s and Suarez’s comments. “They were egregious in continuing their short-term rentals,” he said. “They never stopped. Even after we sent them the most recent demand letter, they continued doing it.”