Surfside judge grants $800,000 in tax breaks to condo owners after some complained about bills

·3 min read

Just days after railing against having to pay property taxes, the 136 unit owners at a Surfside condominium tower that was destroyed in a deadly collapse won’t be getting their bills after all — for a second year in a row.

The former unit owners at Champlain Towers South caught the break again on Monday when Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman said they won’t have to pay their tax bills, averaging $5,785 each on the nearly two-acre oceanfront property.

The Miami-Dade Property Appraiser’s Office assessed the vacant land for $41.3 million and planned to issue estimated tax notices this month. The collective tax impact on the former Surfside unit owners totaled $787,000.

But in his order, Hanzman, who is overseeing a class-action dispute over the Surfside building’s collapse that killed 98 people, said that the property taxes would still have to be paid out of the recent $120 million sale of the vacant land to a wealthy Middle Eastern developer.

Hanzman ordered that a court-appointed receiver, who has had control of the property since the June 24, 2021, collapse, “shall use excess funds from the land sale to pay the assessed 2022 property taxes.”

Oren Cytrynbaum, a lawyer whose family owned two Champlain Towers South units but who was not present on the night of the 12-story building’s collapse, expressed gratitude to the judge.

“Everyone is grateful and relieved that the judge acted swiftly to do the right thing that makes the most sense,” Cytrynbaum told the Miami Herald on Monday. “The owners are not trying to be difficult, but felt that paying property taxes was an additional unfair burden when that money could be recovered from the property sale proceeds.

“We know how hard the judge, receiver and attorneys are working to resolve all matters of the case.”

Initially, the receiver for the Champlain Towers South condo association was going to subtract each unit owner’s share of the total tax tab of $787,000 from their $96 million property-loss settlement approved in the class action — a plan that provoked an immediate outcry. The land sale, which closed in July, is going to fund that settlement, leaving about $24 million in extra funds that Hanzman said could be used in part to pay the unit owners’ property tax bills.

“The judge considered the issue and felt that in light of the results in the class-action case, it made economic sense to have the estate pick up the taxes,” attorney Michael Goldberg, the receiver, told the Miami Herald.

Last year, Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state Legislature forgave the property tax bills for the 136 unit owners, but did not extend that favor to this year, so the Miami-Dade Property Appraiser’s Office was required to assess the property and issue tax notices to them. When Goldberg, the receiver, informed the unit owners in a letter, they expressed outrage.

In June, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava asked DeSantis to suspend property taxes for another year for the relatives and survivors of the Surfside calamity until the sale of the 8777 Collins Ave. site was complete.

“We cannot wait for a legislative solution — these devastated owners need immediate executive action before [tax] notices are disseminated and property taxes are levied,” Levine Cava wrote the governor, thanking him for suspending last year’s tax bills for the Champlain Towers South unit owners.

For many unit owners, the property tax bills represented the second time they felt like they had gotten a raw deal. In May, they said they were pressured into settling their property losses for $96 million in the class-action case, complaining that the compensation undervalued their units. Their initial frustration was also fueled by the $1 billion settlement for the relatives of the 98 people who died in the collapse.