Fisher Island homeowners sue to recover more than $11 million in allegedly “unlawful” assessments

Since 2016, the wealthy enclave’s community association has waived fees for 52 combined units and lots, lawsuit alleges

Fisher Island (Wikipedia Commons, iStock)
Fisher Island (Wikipedia Commons, iStock)

UPDATED, Feb. 16, 11:45 a.m.: On ritzy Fisher Island, the owners of 52 combined units and lots are allegedly receiving a huge discount on their assessment fees — to the detriment of their neighbors, according to a recently filed lawsuit.

The complaint, which seeks class action status for the current owners of 840 properties in America’s richest ZIP code, accuses the Fisher Island Community Association of walloping a majority of owners by making them pay higher fees to offset the lower fees assessed on the 52 combined units. Since 2016, the association has overcharged the majority by more than $11 million, according to the lawsuit, filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.

In an email statement, plaintiffs’ attorney Josh Alper accused the master association of taking advantage of Fisher Island residents. “Its alleged misconduct has forced the majority of the owners to pay millions of dollars in improper fees each year over, at least the last five years,” Alper said. “We look forward to helping our clients recover their money and preventing FICA from overcharging property owners in the future.”

The legal fight over assessments is the latest dustup between the master association and Fisher Island homeowners. In September, Thomas Lauria, Jeff Horowitz and George Pearlman sued the master association and the developer, Fisher Island Holdings, to overturn a settlement agreement tied to the approval of two new projects.

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According to the most recent complaint, the master association is only charging one assessment on combined units, as opposed to making those owners pay separate fees for both properties. This practice is illegal under the master association’s governing documents and Florida law, the lawsuit states.

As a result, Fisher Island Community Association is dividing expenses by 840 properties instead of 892 homes, and thus making owners of uncombined units and lots pay higher disproportionate assessments.

For example, the plaintiffs claim that each owner should have paid annual dues of $27,075 in 2020, but instead paid $28,683 because the $24.15 million annual budget was divided among 840 properties and not 892 properties. As a result, owners of uncombined units and lots paid an extra $1,608, while the owners of the combined homes paid zero for the extra property, the lawsuit alleges.

Matthew Barnes, a former Fisher Island condo owner, told The Real Deal that the master association’s practice was among one of the reasons he sold his property last year. “We made a financial decision to cut our losses,” Barnes said. “As it stands, Fisher Island reminds me of a winner take all game of Monopoly and the winner has rigged the deck.”

Barnes, who is not a plaintiff, noted the complaint doesn’t offer any relief to him and others who sold their Fisher Island properties during the last five years the master association has been allegedly overcharging a majority of owners. “What about the people that were forced to sell with huge losses since 2016 when rumors were swirling?” Barnes said. “They are the true bag holders in all of this.”