Kendall homeowners' suit against Disney to get review
By Suzy Valentine
Owners of condemned properties in a western Kendall neighborhood this week are to learn how much of their suit against Walt Disney World Co. over home construction will be heard by a court.
A pre-trial conference Friday is to narrow the scope of issues the court is to consider in November in litigation brought by 368 homeowners at Lakes of the Meadow Village against building partnership Disney/Arvida.
An attorney for the plaintiffs had hoped for a trial this month after gaining a reserve spot Sept. 19 but is preparing for a Nov. 14 start date.
"I don't think the case will be heard on the earlier date now," said Charlie Papy of Duane Morris in Miami, "though Friday afternoon's hearing should limit the issues to be tried in November. We think the case could be heard in two weeks, but the defendants think it may justify five or six weeks."
Lakes of the Meadow property owners have been in litigation with their homebuilders for nine years.
They became suspicious when they learned Hurricane Andrew destroyed Country Walk, another Disney/Arvida subdivision, in 1992. Engineers identified similar structural problems at Lakes of the Meadow, and litigation began in 1996.
Residents are claiming breach of warranty and violation of a Florida statute for non-compliance with the building code.
In 2002, Miami-Dade County condemned the units, built in the mid-1980s, as unsafe.
Even if a court rules in favor of the residents this fall, appeals could add years to the litigation.
A resident set to testify Friday shared his frustrations. "If the case is heard Nov. 14, there goes another hurricane season," said Evilio Pumariega of Puma Consultants Inc. "When everyone else hunkers down and feels relatively safe during a hurricane, we are in for a nerve-wracking time. It's no way to live."
Hurricane Katrina last week caused minimal damage, said Mr. Pumariega, who evacuated his home at 15265 SW 45th Terrace. "I had water seep in everywhere," he said, "but we evacuated when the storm became a hurricane. My brother lives five minutes away. I keep a set of clothes and documents at his house and some papers at a safety deposit box at the bank.
"Every time we evacuate, I wonder whether the house will be demolished or need repairs."
Mr. Papy said he was concerned about the residents.
"Last Thursday, I was crossing fingers and toes and praying for the residents of Lakes of the Meadow," he said. "Property owners lost trees, but it could have been so much worse. Had winds hit buildings, there would have been significant damage. But there were no serious problems. A storm of the magnitude Katrina became would have been very unforgiving."
The next couple of weeks will be troubling, said Mr. Pumariega.
"We need to get this resolved. We're just entering the peak of hurricane season," he said. "The first two weeks of September are the riskiest, with Sept. 10 statistically the most likely day for a hit."