Nearly 30 parents move to sue the Cloisters living facility over unlivable conditions

Contributed photo of sewage coming up Emma Higgins' bathtub and toilet at the Cloisters Miami. Photo credit: Emma Higgins

Feces in the bathtub, broken air conditioning and no internet connection are just a few of the horror stories new tenants of the Cloisters Miami experienced at move-in this weekend.

Paired with midterm season and record heat, fed-up families and students see no other solution but to hire attorneys and pursue legal action.

This follows the multiple move-in delays that forced would-be residents of the Cloisters, an apartment and townhome complex 0.5 miles from the University, into hotels for 30 days while they waited for their apartments to be move-in ready.

Upon arrival, students and families saw unfinished units that were visibly damaged.

“My entire apartment was flooded with sewer water one day after I moved in, in a bathroom I had never used. It leaked into every room, soaking everything.” Higgins said.

Contributed photo of Emma Higgins' flooded apartment at the Cloisters Miami
Contributed photo of Emma Higgins' flooded apartment at the Cloisters Miami Photo credit: Emma Higgins

Higgins proceeded to call the emergency number provided but received no answer. She later received a text saying that a hotel would be provided for her for the night. This never happened and Higgins was forced to book a room herself.

“The pain, stress and frustration this place has put me through is more than any college student should be handling,” Higgins said in a Google review. “Never live here or [you will] regret your entire stay — mine was one night.”

Isabella Caridade, a sophomore studying health sciences, entered her apartment for the first time through an unlocked door and found construction workers running power cords out of her apartment to power their tools and fans.

“Meanwhile, I pay my electricity bill. I found that very interesting and I got really upset. So that was problem number one,” Caridade said.

After taking a look around the unit, Caridade began to notice other issues including broken air conditioning, an unsealed floor, unfinished trims and broken ventilation in the bathroom, jagged tiling and insects all over the apartment.

Contributed photo of Emma Higgins' unfinished floor tiling at the Cloisters Miami.
Contributed photo of Emma Higgins' unfinished floor tiling at the Cloisters Miami. Photo credit: Emma Higgins

“It says it’s 80 degrees but my thermostat is set at 70,” Caridade said. “I’ve put in multiple work orders over the past few days and no one has responded until today [Sept. 26] when I said that I would take legal action if I felt ill due to the heat.”

Caridade’s mother, like many other parents, joined the Facebook group “The UM Cloister Cluster” to voice her concerns about her daughter’s living situation.

“[Isabella] got back from classes today and there were muddy shoe prints all over her kitchen floor and the thermostat was turned down to 68. Is this their idea of fixing it???!?” Caridade’s mother said in her post.

In the Facebook group, parents have been sharing updates as they reach out to the building developers, leasing agents and representatives from Landmark Properties, the real estate firm developing the Cloisters Miami.

Elyse Zaccarro, the mother of a would-be resident, has been in contact with City of Miami inspectors and local reporters hoping to bring more attention to what her family has experienced in the last two months.

Zaccarro’s son is a third-year transfer student, rooming with an International student from Greece. The family signed their lease with the Cloisters on Aug. 9, only to receive an email that their move-in was delayed four days after.

“Given Landmark Properties’ reputation and the amount of work they do with off-campus student housing, they must have known this delay was happening,” Zaccarro said. “Why would they let us sign these leases?”

After researching their options, Zaccarro, in communication with her son’s roommate’s family in Athens, decided not to take possession of the apartment and move into another complex, even though they are still paying rent to the Cloisters.

As communicated to Zaccarro by Landmark Properties, the only way to break the lease was to find another person to take it over.

“This is an impossibility when the site looks like it does, and there was no move-in day.” Zaccarro said. “What we were told was, if you try to break the lease we [the Cloisters] will bring them to court and ruin their credit.”

In response, Zaccarro felt the only solution was to hire an attorney to move to terminate the lease and release her son and his roommate from their situation.

Caridade is also looking to pursue legal action in response to her experiences.

Jacqueline A. Salcines, a University of Miami School of Law alumnus and mother to two students at the University, got involved with the case after members of the “Cool Parent Group” on Facebook brought the living situations at Cloisters to her attention. Although no legal action has been taken, Salcines began conversations with the developers’ local counsel in Coral Gables and general counsel in Georgia.

“We had a call last Thursday in order to address the letters I’ve written on behalf of about 30 parents that have retained me in an effort to negotiate their terms,” Salcines said. “They received my letter and we had that call on Thursday, but they didn’t really want to discuss the parents that wanted to get out of the contracts.”

The counsel assured Salcines all would be well by the move-in date set for the next day. After hearing the horror stories students were met with, Salcines continued to reach out to the local and general counsel, this time hearing nothing but a one-line response saying that contact was made with an onsite manager.

“I don’t feel that they’re going to be accommodating any of our demands or working with us in any way,” Salcines said. “This will likely end up in litigation. Florida statute 83.51 requires that the landlord provide a habitable property that’s up to code.”

“What we’ve seen in these pictures, with regards to both the interior and outside of the units are not, in my opinion, up to code. I think that we have a strong case, with regards to the unit’s being uninhabitable and untenable.”

Salcines has been urging parents to write letters to the landlord to protect themselves and begin building a defendable case to present in court. Florida law states that landlords have seven-days to fix an issue once a complaint is filed.

Some parents have turned to the University for help, as many found the Cloisters on the University’s off-campus resource page.

Senior Vice President for Student Affairs and Alumni Engagement Patricia A. Whitely provided TMH with a statement regarding the University’s involvement with the situation, as well as the help HRL is providing to students in dire circumstances.

“I have reached out to Landmark Properties on a number of occasions to advocate for our UM students, who have been significantly delayed in moving into the Cloisters and receiving the amenities promoted,” Whitely wrote. “Housing and Residential Life has a few beds available to assist students in their transition on campus, providing these rooms on a per diem basis with no deposit required.”

Tuesday morning the Cloisters posted to their resident’s portal alerting them that county inspectors will be on-site that day.

At the time of publication, TMH has reached out to Robert Fatora, an inspector at the Miami-Dade County Permitting and Inspection Center, but received no response.

The Cloisters Miami has also failed to respond to a request to comment.

TMH will continue to monitor the situation and provide live updates.

All photos in this article were contributed by Emma Higgins, and have not been personally verified by TMH.