Condo owners say increasing assessment fees may force them to sell

ORLANDO, Fla. — Some downtown Orlando condominium owners feel like the President of their owners association wants to run the place like a hotel, even though the city prohibits short-term rentals of entire condo units.

Investigative Reporter Karla Ray learned that members of the Jackson Condominium Board are connected to about half the units in the building, either through direct ownership or associated LLCs.

The President of the Board admitted in court records to running a rental business with the units he owns. We wanted to ask him about a letter sent out to owners in response to complaints to code enforcement about short-term rentals, and the feeling from some owners at the Jackson that moves made by the Board might leave them no choice but to sell at a loss.

As Orlando’s skyline has changed, the Jackson Condominiums have remained a staple. For owners, a low-frills building with no pool or gym was actually a selling point.

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“I just wanted a quiet place, and actually one that had a manageable HOA,” owner Stephen Komives said. “And at the time, this one did.”

Now, some owners say a special assessment of over a million dollars, what they were told was needed to replenish reserves, has pushed their budgets.

“The overall total amount that I’m paying per month is around $1700,” Andrew Aponte said. “It’s almost tripled.”

“I went from, I think about $400 a month [in HOA fees] to nearly $1200 a month,” Michelle Deleon claimed.

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The owners question whether it’s an effort to encourage them to sell to make room for rentals. 9 Investigates went through property records and found half of the 52 units in the building are connected to association board members, either directly or through associated LLCs, including board president Nabeel Ansari.

Ansari admitted in a lawsuit to operating a rental business with his units in the building. That suit, in which Ansari is suing Aponte for defamation and tortious interference, claims Aponte would ‘seek out and pay for negative reviews’ on Ansari’s listings ‘intended to impair or destroy’ his business relationship with his customers. Aponte told us those listings were on short-term rental websites.

Ansari and other board members have been cited by Orlando Code Enforcement in the past for violating the city’s short term rental ordinance, but have later come into compliance after removing or editing the listings.

Documents provided by the homeowners show Ansari also helped change the rules for selling units in the building to include a Right of First Refusal, meaning the board has the power to block a potential sale and buy the unit instead.

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Real estate attorney Barry Miller says the combination of a special assessment, Right of First Refusal, and a push for rental properties, is a recipe for a building takeover.

“I draft declarations for developers, and one of our philosophies is, keep it as simple as possible,” Miller said. “So I never put in a first right of refusal, because that deters a buyer from buying. That’s exactly what they’re trying to do, it appears here, is deter third parties from buying, because they want to buy the units and control it.”

We cannot confirm whether any units have been purchased by board members through the right of first refusal, but in a letter Ansari confirmed he sent to unit owners, it states ‘we think that if all unit owners collaborated, we could petition the city of Orlando for a land use change to that of a condo/hotel zoning which would in turn maximize the value of each unit in the Jackson.’

After multiple attempts to call and email Ansari and his attorney, Karla Ray ran into him outside of the Jackson. Off camera, he confirmed he and his attorney received all of Ray’s messages and he said the letter speaks for itself.

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The letter goes on to say that ‘even though short term rentals (under 30 days) are against city ordinances and punishable by fine, they also do not violate any laws and are not illegal in the figurative meaning of the word.’

“No comment, thank you very much,” Ansari said when asked if he wanted to elaborate on the letter.

9 Investigates took the letter to city leaders, and learned that in addition to nearly two dozen citations given to various Jackson unit owners for short-term rentals over the last two years, two additional units are being taken to the Code Enforcement Board in February for repeat violations. One of those units is owned by an LLC managed by Ansari and his brother, who is also on the Jackson board

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Karla Ray

Karla Ray, WFTV.com

Karla Ray anchors Eyewitness News This Morning on Saturday and Sundays, and is an investigative reporter for the 9 Investigates unit.