Billion-dollar landlords: Rental home giant once led by Trump ally is under fire

Brielle, who was born healthy, now suffers from persistent asthma. The 2-year-old girl’s parents, Bruce A. Nicholson and Lisa Daspit, believe the bright yellow bungalow with white trim they once thought to be the perfect home to live in Margate is to blame for her condition. 

Less than a year into their lease, the parents noticed a crack in the ceiling above their living room. They called Waypoint Homes several times, but their requests for help went unanswered. As their frustration grew, so did the crack — until finally the ceiling caved in, they said. 

They would later learn Waypoint Homes was an affiliate of Starwood Waypoint, an Arizona-based company that owns tens of thousands of other single-family rental homes throughout the United States. They weren’t the only tenants who were accusing the company of being absentee landlords prioritizing profits over people. 

“Every morning and every night she has to take a breathing treatment,” Nicholson said about his daughter’s condition, which requires constant supervision. “No 2-year-old should have to do that.”

Their landlord was Tom Barrack, the then-company’s billionaire co-chairman, a close friend and political ally of President Donald Trump. Barrack directed the company to buy bundles of foreclosed homes after the housing market collapsed in 2008 and rather than reselling them, the company rented them to tenants. 

“It’s about continuity of income and a new asset class that in the American Dream will continue to love living at home,” Barrack said in a speech at the University of Chicago in 2012. “Not necessarily owning a home.”

It was a business model Barrack once touted as nothing less than a redefinition of the American Dream. Barrack has since sold his stake in the company, but the strategy he pioneered continues to spread, as Waypoint finalized its merger with another large company, Invitation Homes, to consolidate ownership of more than 80,000 properties. They are the largest owner of single-family rental homes in the country. 

With homeownership rates hovering near historic lows and the newly merged company owning a significant share of the middle-income rental market in several large cities, critics say renting from corporate landlords is increasingly becoming the only viable option for thousands of young families who might have once become homeowners.

Nicholson and Daspit filed a lawsuit earlier this year against the corporate giant. Court records show the company denied any wrong doing. But the parents said there is plenty of evidence that the toxic mold was also in their kitchen and it caused their daughter’s respiratory condition. 

“You could smell it. You could see it. You could feel it,” Daspit said. 

As their daughter continues to struggle with her health, other Florida residents have ongoing lawsuits. Starwood Waypoint lists 9,403 homes in their South Florida single-family rental portfolio. It’s one of their largest markets. 

Felix Tur and Viviana Pedroso accused Waypoint Homes of unsafely installing a garage door and drywall at one of their homes in southwest Miami-Dade County. They allege that door later fell cutting off part of a tenants’ finger. Waypoint Homes claims they didn’t have a record of prior issues with the door. 

Simon Mashian and his family moved from New Mexico to South Florida last year. They found what they thought was a nice three-bedroom home on Zillow. It was a Waypoint Homes listing. The troubles began the moment the family of four moved in. He said the house wasn’t clean and there were many maintenance issues. 

“We had mold in our master bedroom closet — just black mold coming from the ceiling,” Mashian said. 

A Waypoint Homes representative said they addressed a leak and replaced the drywall, but Mashian has pictures that he says show otherwise. Despite the complaints, Charles Young, Starwood Waypoint’s chief operating officer, said they provide high quality homes and high quality service. 

“The vast majority of our residents are very satisfied,” Young said, while pointing to the company’s 99.8 percent customer satisfaction figure. 

Nicholson and Daspit said they are living paycheck to paycheck while caring for Brielle. They had to leave all of their possessions behind at the house, because of the toxic mold. They said only their clothes escaped the mold. 

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Real estate experts chime in on Irma’s market effect

Real estate experts said the housing market is bound to be a bit busier after Hurricane Irma than it was before the storm hit South Florida.

“Volatility creates momentum in the marketplace both good and bad,” Hernando Perez, of Franklin Street, said.

In the short term, there is no doubt among many experts that the market will take a hit.

“Overall we will see September look about 25 to 50 percent down in pending closings,” Christina Pappas, of Miami Association of Realtors, said. “Basically, (this is) because we took a two-week vacation.”

But now that the storm has passed and things are getting back to normal, people want to get on with their lives.

“We tend to see people expedite their situation, expedite their decision making,” Pappas said. “A seller on the fence is going to jump off the fence. A buyer on the fence is going to say, ‘You know what, maybe not the time for me or you know what this is actually a great time.’ There is a lot of opportunity out there I am ready to make the move.”

Danielle Dilenge has been a realtor for nine years. She said most people buying in South Florida know the risks of storms and that Irma was simply a reminder.

“If you are in the evacuation zone your property is likely on the water, you have a boat or you want to be close to boating and the beach and that is why you live here,” Dilenge said. “You live in South Florida because you want that life style. You are willing to take that risk.”

A storm gives certain upgrades a higher priority to buyers.

“Typically we do see an uptick in people looking for those hurricane features after a hurricane occurs,” Pappas said.

Things like impact windows and a whole home generator become very attractive selling features. 

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Public housing tenants trapped in parking lot after Hurricane Irma

With a shortage of affordable housing in Miami, leaving Section 8 subsidized housing isn’t something the dozens of residents of the Civic Towers in Miami’s Allapattah neighborhood are ready to do.

Some said they paid rent on time Sept. 1. They evacuated during Hurricane Irma, but when they came back they couldn’t get inside. They said the landlord took their money Sept. 15 although they knew they were leaving them homeless.

The residents said Redwood Housing Partners, the owners of the two buildings that the city has deemed unsafe, hasn’t done anything to help them. They fear that if they go to shelters they will end up living in the streets. 

With nowhere to go, the public housing residents have been sleeping in the parking lot of the Section 8 subsidized housing property. Among the residents suffering is a cancer patient, single mothers, several children and their pets. 

Nine hot days after the storm, some families were still sleeping in their cars. Some of them are seeking shelter under tents and umbrellas. The Lion’s Club donated items to help them be a little more comfortable and representatives have talked to officials to try to get them help. 

The City of Miami is in talks with the federal Housing and Urban Development Department, but as of Wednesday morning they still didn’t have a solution. 



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Want to live in Canada and the U.S. at the same time? Here’s your chance

Check out this house: nine bedrooms, three bathrooms, only $109,000 and it comes with 24-hour security. There’s just this one thing: Well, and it’s kind of a big deal.

The home sits in two countries, the United States and Canada. So you’ll need a passport if you want to step into the backyard, according to Macleans, a Canadian news organization.

Have you heard of this house? It drew some headlines last month, but the home straddling the border remains for sale, according to Zillow.

There are just a few more logistical issues to take into consideration: The home is a bit of a fixer upper, as it was built in 1782, the walls are made of thick granite, the decor is straight out of the 1950s and that 24-hour security we mentioned is provided by both Canada and the United States, the Associated Press reported.

A hard sell

The couple selling the home is having a hard time finding a buyer because of the location, which is on the border between Beebe Plain, Vermont and Stanstead, Quebec.

But the house itself looks incredible, if you don’t mind a bit of a project (which might be an understatement). The lot sits on a quarter-acre of land, the home is 3,000 square feet and it’s currently cut into five vacant apartments — although Zillow still lists the home as having nine bedrooms total and three bathrooms, so you might want to look at how the house is split up.

The AP said the home is structurally sound, but needs lots of work, adding that the estimated rebuild cost is about $600,000. The house is being sold as-is.

Perhaps this won’t come as a surprise, but the aspect that seems to be tripping up most prospective buyers is definitely the location.

“In the day, it was a normal and natural thing,” said Brian DuMoulin, who grew up in the house and was accustomed to life on the border at a time when no one thought twice about crossing from one country to the other. “Now it stresses everyone out.”

A history lesson for you

The home, known locally as the Old Stone Store, was built by a merchant so he could sell to farmers in both Vermont and Quebec. Brian and his wife, Joan DuMoulin, inherited it about 40 years ago.

Now the couple, in their 70s, who have dual U.S. and Canadian citizenship and a home in nearby Morgan, Vermont, are hoping to sell it so they can move to Ontario to be closer to their children and grandchildren, the AP reported.

Admittedly, the times have changed since the DuMoulins inherited the house.

Ever since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, security efforts have ramped up in the area, big time.

Residential streets that used to be open are now blocked by gates. The back doors of an apartment building straddling the border nearby have been locked shut. The street next to the Haskell Free Library and Opera House, deliberately built in both countries, is blocked by flower pots, although Canadians are still allowed to walk to the library’s U.S. entrance without going through a border post, the AP said.

‘It’s always a fine line’

The DuMoulins’ house is directly across Stanstead’s Rue Principale from the port of entry staffed by agents of the Canada Border Services Agency and adjacent to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection post.

Troy Rabideau, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection assistant port director for the area that includes Beebe Plain, said the agents know who live there, but keeping track can be a challenge.

“It’s always a fine line,” Rabideau said. “We do the best we can to keep an eye on it. We do what we have to do, security first, but we also want the support of the locals.”

The DuMoulins’ house has entrances from the United States and Canada. Agents have come to know the people who live in the house, currently vacant, and allow them to move back and forth freely as long as they stay in the house or the tiny front or backyard. There’s a small granite border marker just outside the front door.

There is a gate hidden in a backyard hedge. DuMoulin said U.S. agents wanted to be sure the gate was wired shut. It is.

A line laid across the floor of an upstairs bedroom shows where the actual border runs, and DuMoulin pays property taxes to both countries, USA Today reported.

Showings and ‘awkwardness’

Real estate agent Rosemary Lalime said in late May that the house had been shown about 10 times. There have been a dozen or so more showings or appointments booked in the past few weeks.

All but one person has come from the United States. One man called from Toronto.

“He was inquiring more about the border situation and if he bought it, what are his rights,” Lalime said. “I put him in touch with the Border Patrol.”

Brian DuMoulin said that usually, the agents from both countries know who they are, but he spoke of a time when a new Canadian border agent saw him, his wife and her sister standing in front of the house, “a good 18 feet into the States.” He demanded they report to the Canadian border post.

“He simply didn’t know,” DuMoulin said, noting it took about 45 minutes to resolve the situation after the agent called his superiors.

“That’s the awkwardness,” he said. “If there is an awkwardness, it’s that you can’t just go this way or this way, you’ve got to go through (the ports of entry) and then back through.”

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Zaha Hadid’s Miami Beach haven for sale

Zaha Hadid could have chosen any location in the world for her winter home. But while working on a project in downtown Miami, the trailblazing Iraqi-British architect chose Miami Beach.

The Prizker Prize-winning pioneer was working on One Thousand Museum, a 62-story tower overlooking Biscayne Bay.  She was diagnosed with bronchitis and died of a heart attack March 31, 2016, in Miami. She was 65.

More than a year after her death, her 2,229-square-feet haven at the W Hotel, 2201 Collins Ave., was on the market for $10 million on Wednesday. The three-bedroom condominium has four bathrooms and a southeast wrap-around balcony overlooking Collins Park beach. 

Some of the apartment’s furniture and accessories were on display as Hadid left them, and were also available for separate purchase, according to Rex Hamilton, the Coral Gables-based real estate broker who listed the unit. 


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New luxury apartments rise in growing Fort Lauderdale

The proliferation of high-rise buildings with high-design architecture and resort-style amenities in South Florida has been heading north. While in Miami-Dade County foreign buyers dominate the condo-flipping mania, Broward County offers more stability.

Fort Lauderdale’s skyline is changing at a slower pace. Patrick Campbell, a vice president at the Related Group, said the majority of the buyers in Fort Lauderdale are end users from South Florida who are transitioning into the next stage of their lives.

“We see that the demographic is largely empty nesters, professionals and second-home buyers with ties to the community,” Campbell said.

Fort Lauderdale’s residential real estate inventory is growing in both the Las Olas and beachfront areas. Despite the rising real estate prices, the city’s luxury units remain a bargain compared to those in Miami Beach, Bal Harbour, Sunrise and downtown Miami.

Campbell said the Auberge Beach Residences and Spa is $1,300 per square foot versus $3,000 per square foot in Miami Beach. The 171-unit oceanfront two-tower project is breaking records in Broward County. In April, the developers announced a penthouse in the South Tower sold for $8.9 million. 

Ron Drew, of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, attributes the rising condo market to the growing job market. Drew cited that from June 2014 to March 2017, there were 77,600 jobs added in Broward County. And more jobs are coming. 

Companies like Magic Leap in Plantation, Hotwire Communications in Fort Lauderdale and Ecolab in Miramar have announced expansions in the last two years. And Fort Lauderdale Las Olas will soon have a supply of condos for young professionals who are not ready to buy real estate, but are ready for luxury living.

The Related Group will complete Fort Lauderdale’s tallest building this summer. The 45-story Icon Las Olas will debunk the 42-story Las Olas River House, built in 2004. Liz Caldwell, an agent for Premier Estate Properties, said there is a demand for the units. 

In partnership with Rabina Properties and Perella Weinberg Partners, the Icon Las Olas will have 272 units for rent from $2,500 to $7,000 a month starting in June. Residents will have access to a spa, concierge, a wine room, a movie room, a gym and two pools. 

“Why buy when you can rent? It’s all about the millennials,” Caldwell said. “They want the experience of living in downtown without the permanence and they don’t mind living from pay check to pay check.” 

The Icon Las Olas is just the beginning. There are more high-rise buildings lining along the Tarpon River. The other projects are The 42-story Residences of Las Olas, the 25-story 4 West Las Olas, the 45-story 100 Las Olas and the 45-story Las Olas Riverfront Tower 1 and 28-story Tower 2. 

The Greater for Fort Lauderdale Alliance projects a 7.7 percent population growth by 2021. Jessica Savage, of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Conventions and Visitor Bureau, said to cater to the growing population the city also has developed a more dynamic dining and restaurant scene that is attracting well-known chefs, such as Geoffrey Zakarian.

Aside from the new restaurants, there are also new brew pubs, coffee shops and ale houses that have “popped up over the past few years,” Savage said. 

The growth is not limited to the condo market. The hospitality industry is also getting an upgrade with the Hyde Resorts and Residences, Ocean Resort Residences at Conrad Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort, the Four Seasons and the Gale Boutique Hotel & Residences. The hotel renovations include the W Fort Lauderdale.

“The destination is attracting a more affluent demographic and developing a cooler vibe,” Savage said. 

Local 10 News Kerry Weston contributed to this report. 

360 DEGREE RENDERING | 100 Las Olas

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