UPDATED, March 4, 12:35 p.m.: A pair of apartment buildings near Miami Beach’s Lincoln Road that are mired in litigation over ownership were slapped with a $1.2 million foreclosure claim.
Bay Harbor Islands-based private lender Metropolitan Mortgage Company, led by Milton Raijman, filed the foreclosure suit over the buildings at 1560 Drexel Avenue and 1568 Drexel Avenue against Ajar Holdings LLC and short-term rentals investor Raz Ofer, as well as his affiliates. The two sides are locked in a separate battle over ownership of the real estate.
The adjacent two-story buildings have a total of 24 units on 0.4 acres, property records show. The building at 1560 Drexel Avenue was constructed in 1925. The other was built in 1938.
The properties are being overseen by Ramon Abadin, a court-appointed conservator, which essentially means the properties are in receivership. Ofer and his affiliates are appealing the appointment.
1560/1568 Drexel Avenue LLC, which was affiliated with Ofer, took out four promissory notes for a combined $1.15 million from 2018 to 2020, but failed to make payments due in 2020 and 2021, according to the suit filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court on Feb. 23. The complaint also alleges that unspecified accrued interest, late fees and other charges are due.
Ofer and his attorney, David Winker, said the foreclosure is connected to their dispute with Ajar Holdings. Ofer, himself, said he told Metropolitan Mortgage to file the suit, because if it is successful, he can just pay back the lender and in that way get back his building.
“I can pay it anytime,” Ofer said, calling Metropolitan Mortgage “friends of mine.”
Reijman, of Metropolitan, declined comment.
Ofer also filed an $8.2 million foreclosure case against Ajar Holdings in October, alleging he is owed money for property renovations he was completing when his property was seized.
“Those foreclosures have to do with Raz trying to gain control of the building back. He did the construction himself so he [places a lien on] the building,” said Winker, adding that using an entity to place a lien against your own property for renovations is common. “The idea is you are basically putting the world on notice, ‘I am owed money as part of this property.’ This is the kind of protection for people if someone tries to steal his building or [put a] lien against his building.”
Records show 1560/1568 Drexel Avenue bought the properties for $3.9 million in 2013. The company temporarily was tied to Ofer, but now lists Stuart Kalb as its manager. Ajar Holdings, led by North Miami-based attorney Roniel Rodriguez, is listed as the buildings’ owner in property records. “The Property Appraiser has no power to make a determination as to ownership of property, but merely reflects the documents the office receives,” Winker said.
The nature of the ownership is a protracted affair that dates back to a 2019 lawsuit by Opustone against Ofer, alleging he failed to pay for marble he had bought for his properties.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Beatrice Butchko in March 2020 entered an order against Ofer and his affiliates saying he is on the hook for $105,773, for unpaid marble and attorneys’ fees.
When a sheriff’s sale was ordered of Ofer’s various limited liability companies, Ofer transferred his interest in 1560-1568 Drexel Avenue, which at the time owned the Miami Beach rentals, to another of his LLCs, in an attempt to not lose the real estate, according to Rodriguez. But Ofer mistakenly signed the November 2020 deed as the grantee, or buyer, when he should have signed as the grantor, or seller, Rodriguez said.
“Mr. Ofer, thinking he was more clever than everyone else, transferred the two properties to another company he owned” just before the sheriff sale date, Rodriguez said. “In his haste and attempt to defraud his creditors, he ended up losing the properties in the sale.”
Ofer and Winker countered, saying Rodriguez and his client Kalb instead seized on Ofer’s type-o in the deed to execute a fraudulent quit claim deed and illegally transfer the property to Ajar.
“The only reason their fraudulent quit claim deed worked is because what these guys do is they go to the property appraiser and they knock out deeds,” Winker said. “What they do is they lobby the property appraiser to invalidate deeds and place their fraudulent quit claim deed in the chain of title.”
Winker says that fraudulent deeds intended to take over properties are not uncommon. He pointed to the case of Shirley Gibson, whose Coconut Grove property was sold without her knowledge after a fraudulent deed transferred the lot’s ownership. The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office arrested three people in connection to the case last year.
Rodriguez said Kalb wants to convert the Drexel apartments into a safe haven for women who are victims of domestic abuse.
As for Ofer, this is not his only lawsuit over a Miami Beach property. In December, he sued the sellers of an apartment building, also on Drexel Avenue, alleging he was duped into entering the contract by misrepresentation that the property had a city license allowing it to be rented out on platforms such as Airbnb and VRBO. Ofer sought a reduction of the purchase price by almost $3 million.
Ofer also was charged by the state attorney’s office in 2019 with organized scheme to defraud, and grand theft in the first degree, both felonies, over allegations he tried to defraud Home Depot and other retailers by paying for materials with checks that he canceled soon after the purchases. The charges, which allege the scheme took place in 2017, are pending. Ofer has pleaded not guilty.
His attorney in that case, Michael Grieco, said this is a civil matter “conflated with allegations of criminal activity.”
“It’s a civil matter and it should have stayed that way,” he said.