Downtown Orlando condo war rages over fees and rentals – Orlando Sentinel

A battle between residents of an upscale condominium in downtown Orlando and the building’s board has spilled over the internet and into the courts.

Residents of The Jackson in Thornton Park allege that two brothers elected to the board of the condominium association four years ago delayed subsequent elections and abused their power to turn the building into their own revenue generator , using units as Airbnb rooms in violation of city codes and increasing fees.

One of the brothers, Nabeel Ansari, recounts in a letter was allegedly sent to residents and in a libel suit against a resident that all of their actions were in the interests of increasing property values ​​and improving the building.

The Ansaris did not respond to interview requests.

Andrew Aponte, a web developer from Miami who moved to The Jackson in 2021, created a website called to detail what he sees as the locals’ struggle. According to Aponte, after being elected in 2019, brothers Nabeel and Faisal Ansari used the COVID-19 pandemic to postpone the elections in 2020 and 2021, during which time they obtained a majority share of the 51 building units for give themselves a permanent voting majority.

“No one can stop them now,” said Aponte, 35. “We are slowly being squeezed out.”

The number of units held by the Ansari is not a public record, as many are registered with corporations. The Ansaris are listed as homeowners in six, according to Orange County Real Estate Appraiser records, and none of them have a property tax exemption, implying they are not It’s not about units in which they live.

Only nine of the units in the building are listed as owner-occupied.

Decked said he was initially suspicious of the brothers’ motives when they added $133,000 to the building’s budget in October 2021 for a doorman, a move that increased monthly fees for residents.

The council said the move was for safety, but Aponte and other residents say the person is helping the brothers rent short-term rooms on sites such as Airbnb and VRBO, even though those rentals violate safety codes. the city.

Stephen Komives, 55, a former Orlando Sentinel employee who has lived at The Jackson since 2011, said early last year he started noticing people with suitcases in the lobby.

“They were checking in and getting instructions from reception and we were like, ‘Are we paying for this? “”, Did he declare. “Turns out we were.”

He and Aponte both say they saw safe deposit boxes — often used for short-term rentals — around the building. They added that tenants leave trash in the hallways and throw loud parties.

“I called the police four or five times in the last year for noise complaints,” Komives said.

“The irony is, they say [the doorman] is for security, but we feel less safe with transient tenants staying here for a weekend than with someone staying here for a year,” Aponte said.

Orlando has had an ordinance against rentals of less than 30 days since 2018. Kory Keith, the city’s code enforcement officer, says residents gave him a list of units to investigate. “We are investigating everyone,” he said. “Wherever we find sufficient evidence, we will prosecute.”

Homeowners who violate the ordinance are taken to the code enforcement board to be given a “time limit” to come into compliance, said Lilian Scott-Payne, the city’s assistant director of economic development.

If owners refuse to comply, they can be hit with a fine of $1,000 per day and a lien placed on their unit. On average, city code enforcement cites about 120 properties per year with violations.

Twenty-one units in the building are in violation of short-term rentals, according to the city. Two units will be brought before code enforcement in February for recidivism, including one belonging to a company whose Ansaris are listed as officers.

The city can only investigate complaints against individual units, not owners who may use multiple units for this purpose, according to Scott-Payne. “We don’t conduct surveys of the entire building, or the HOA, or the administrators,” she said.

In a letter that Aponte and Komives say Nabeel Ansari sent to residents, Ansari does not deny using its units for short-term rentals.

“Even though short-term rentals (less than 30 days) are against city ordinances and subject to civil fines, they do not violate any law and are not figuratively illegal,” the letter said. by e-mail. “My family is sympathetic to any unit owners who want to capitalize on the same inefficiencies we see in renting out their units to get the highest rents legally possible.”

Ansari in the letter says that when he moved into The Jackson in 2014, the building was in poor condition, calling him the “red-haired stepson” of Thornton Park. He says he and his brother worked to improve it, and now he rents three units in the building to long-term tenants for between $6,000 and $7,000 a month each.

Ansari goes on to appeal to landlords, saying that under its plan, landlords could make more money renting units when demand for downtown rentals is so high.

Aponte says he has nothing against the Ansaris or anyone trying to make money on their units, but the moves by the board make it impossible to be a resident owner.

Aponte said the board last February passed a special assessment of $1.3 million to replenish the building’s cash reserves. This increased his monthly fee to $1,800, he said.

Komives says his fees, which were $370 a month when he moved in, are now over $1,100.

Andrew Aponte, Wednesday, January 4, 2023. Aponte is one of many residents of The Jackson condominium in downtown Orlando complaining that the HOA board has been taken over by a profit-seeking family. , which turned units into Airbnb rentals in violation of city codes.  He says the fees are forcing residents out and making life in the condo miserable.  (Ricardo Ramírez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel)

Aponte says the high fees have strained some owners, forcing them to sell. But he also accuses the board of imposing a right of first refusal, which gives the board the ability to review and approve or reject any sale.

In December, the board again held elections, this time overseen by a comptroller from the office of Spencer Hennings, the Florida Condominium Ombudsman, a division of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. The Ansaris re-elected, according to Aponte.

The ombudsman’s office did not return a request for comment.

Matt Firestone, a ShuffieldLowman attorney in Orlando with experience in condominium law, says residents have no legal recourse to remove council members who control majority votes.

Also in December, Nabeel Ansari filed a defamation suit against Aponte because of his website. In the complaint, he takes issue with Aponte’s characterization of his motives and procedures and accuses Aponte of paying people to leave negative reviews about the condo.

In the letter to residents, Ansari says he and his brother have a “bigger vision” for The Jackson, one that includes a gym and pool.

Aponte says he loves the condo he paid $485,000 for, with its view of Constitution Green and its proximity to downtown. However, he says that if fees continue to rise for new equipment, he’s not sure he’ll be able to stay.

“They say they’re going to increase property values, but they don’t say how people are going to survive long enough to see that increase,” Aponte said.

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