South Florida’s most intriguing real estate lawsuits of 2021

Cases involved Surfside condo collapse, Miami Beach hotel manager and the city of Miami

(Photo Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal)
(Photo Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal)

In the past year, lawsuits tied to the deadly collapse of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside garnered the most attention, while litigation targeting a Miami Beach hotel executive, a waterfront mansion landlord, and the city of Miami sought to expose shady dealings. Here are the juiciest lawsuits reported by The Real Deal in 2021.

Champlain Towers South reckoning

Since a significant portion of the Champlain Towers South came tumbling down on June 24, killing 98 residents and leaving 128 homeless, more than 40 lawsuits related to the tragedy have been filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.

In one of the first, survivor Raysa Rodriguez described the 12-story condominium’s deterioration as a “time bomb.” Rodriguez recounted a harrowing escape from her unit and cited mounting neglect of the building that may have contributed to the collapse.

In the most recent complaint, surviving relatives are going after Terra, the developer of Eighty Seven Park, a new condominium built next door. The lawsuit accuses the development team of ignoring signs that the new tower’s construction was compromising Champlain Towers South. Attorneys representing Terra “categorically” denied the allegations.

Setai Miami Beach sex scandal

A lawsuit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court by Los Angeles resident Sarah Lazow alleged that Setai Miami Beach general manager Alex Furrer defamed and harassed her for several months to get her kicked out of the luxury condo-hotel after their sexual affair ended.

Furrer, who has headed the Setai’s hotel operations since 2015, admitted to the inappropriate relationship, including sending sexually explicit messages from his work-issued phone and having sexual encounters with Lazow in her suite, according to court filings and his own deposition. One of their trysts involved a paid dominatrix and rope, court documents show.

Lazow alleged that after the affair ended, Furrer allegedly made defamatory comments about her to other Setai residents and employees and caused Setai owners the Nakash family, his employer, to ban her from all of the property’s amenities. Her suit pointed out that the Setai’s employee handbook prohibits entering a guest’s suite for non-business related fraternization. She is seeking $1 million in damages.

Miami Beach waterfront mansion squabble

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In August, a company managed by Miami Beach developer and hospitality mogul Mathieu Massa sued Ranee Bartolacci, wife of former HFZ executive Nir Meir, after she allegedly made a series of alterations to a waterfront mansion in Sunset Island she rents from Massa. Bartolacci allegedly replaced appliances and furniture, among more than a dozen violations of her lease.

While Bartolacci is the only defendant, she and Meir reside in the seven-bedroom home, according to sources. In November, Bartolacci countersued her landlord, alleging the mansion has been rendered uninhabitable by rats’ nests, moldy bathrooms and a termite infestation. She is seeking more than $9 million in damages from Massa and from Miami Beach luxury broker Julian Johnston for allegedly misleading her into renting the house.

Bartolacci also accused Massa and Johnston of backing out of an agreement to reimburse her for more than $650,000 in repairs to the property.

Hotel Greystone case: Get it in writing

When food and beverage mogul Brandel Muhl teamed up with hotel developer James Vosotas to revamp an Art Deco hotel in Miami Beach, the pair relied on their longtime friendship to seal the deal. The duo became pals in college and Muhl was a groomsman in Vosotas’ wedding, according to court documents.

Now the friendship is irreparably broken as Muhl and Vosotas duke it out in Miami-Dade Circuit Court for control of Hotel Greystone, a 92-key property at 1920 Collins Avenue that reopened in September.

In August, Vosotas and his company Vos Hospitality sued Muhl and related entities, alleging his ex-business partner engaged in “predatory, backstabbing” behavior to squeeze him out of the hotel’s ownership.

Muhl, who is CEO of national food and beverage company Mahaska, blames the partnership’s unraveling on mismanagement by Vosotas, including allegedly defaulting four times on acquisition and construction loans.

Rumble in Little Havana

The owners of two popular venues in Miami’s Little Havana claim they are victims of a systematic, illegal code enforcement crackdown, according to a federal lawsuit filed in October. Affiliates of Madroom Hospitality, which is owned by nightlife entrepreneurs Zach and Ben Bush and developer Bill Fuller, sued the city of Miami for nearly $28 million, the amount of business that bar Ball & Chain and restaurant Taquerias el Mexicano have allegedly lost.

The lawsuit is the latest development in Fuller’s three-year battle with Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo. A lightning-rod elected official, Carrollo orchestrated the crackdown behind the scenes, the lawsuit claims. The code violations forced both establishments to close, although Ball & Chain reopened the same month that the lawsuit was filed. In an email, Miami City Attorney Victoria Mendez denied any wrongdoing by city officials.

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