Miami-Dade police raid assisted living home they say is unlicensed and unsafe

Miami-Dade police and agents with several state and federal law enforcement agencies served a warrant Wednesday on a duplex in Southwest Miami-Dade suspected of operating as an unlicensed assisted living facility.

As many as 30 people live there, police said, and the residents are a mix of the elderly and those with mental health and addiction issues. Since January, 15 residents were involuntarily taken from the facility for psychiatric evaluation, said Detective Alvaro Zabaleta, a spokesman with the Miami-Dade County Police Department.

That exacerbated an already unsafe situation for all those living there, he said.

It’s not immediately clear if the owner was home at the time of the late morning raid, which included dozens or armed officers and agents descending on the house in South Miami Heights.

Zabaleta said none of the staff working at the home are certified to treat people with medical conditions, which many people living there have.

“That can lend itself to disaster, because of the fact that these individuals who are in there that are employees, they’re not medically trained, they don’t have the proper certifications necessary,” he said.

From the outside, the house looks like a typical residential house. But, police said the owners made multiple alterations inside to accommodate residents and staff.

“It’s got multiple rooms subdivided within the home. It’s got bunk beds in there, locker rooms,” Zabaleta said. “Clearly 30 people to live in one residence is unsafe, and of course, inhumane.”

Neighbor Leyla Mustelier said she moved next to the house in 2019, around the same time she began noticing a lot of activity there. She often saw people in the backyard smoking marijuana and cigarettes, and she said it was not unusual to hear people arguing with each other, nor for police cars and ambulances to drop by.

She did not, however, know the home was operating as an assisted living facility.

“Here everyone lives behind closed doors,” Mustelier said.

Detectives with Miami-Dade’s Medical Crimes Unit began investigating the house months ago after receiving complaints about the conditions inside the home.

The investigation grew to include the Agency for Healthcare Administration, Florida Department of Health and the Department of Children and Family.

“We’ve received multiple reports and leads that this was going on at this residence, and Fire Rescue has had to come out here multiple times because of illnesses and so forth,” Zabaleta said.

When officers entered the home, there were 15 residents there, and Zabaleta said most of the others were away receiving services off site, police said.

Police said Department of Children and Families would evaluate the residents and determine where they will go next.

The agency did not immediately respond to a phone call asking about the case.

Police will also be interviewing the residents to try to determine how they ended up at the home.

“What was it that they were told. Is there any kind of coercion going on to make them stay? Are we looking at some type of exploitation? Are we looking at financial exploitation?” Zabaleta said. “Are we looking at some people who are perhaps too weak and not medically strong enough to be able to walk away? Each individual will have a different story to tell.”

Police are asking anyone with information about the home, or any other assisted living facility that could be unlicensed, to call CrimeStoppers of South Florida at (305) 471-8477, or go to the website, to submit a tip.

Miami Herald photo journalist Pedro Portal contributed to this report.

This is a developing story that will be updated as more information becomes available.