Study the fine print before buying by: John Pacenti
No matter how beautiful a condominium complex looks in the brochure,
it might behoove any buyer to look at the fine print in the contract
based on a ruling by a federal judge.
U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz in
was explicit about what buyers were getting, no matter what a slick
There was no Olympic-sized pool, there were "quality variations" in
the designer tile, it was not on the shores of
views were obstructed.
The brochure showed a 56-story elliptical-shaped building on the water
with a nearby marina. The illustration omitted surrounding high-rise buildings. The one- and two-bedroom units were priced from $200,000 to $800,000.
"It is well settled that a contracting party may not as matter of law
reasonably rely upon prior written or oral misrepresentations
expressly contradicted by a subsequent written agreement," Seitz wrotein her 10-page order.
The decision is a victory for developer Tibor Hollo and may influence
hundreds of similar lawsuits against other condominium builders. Most of the lawsuits aim to recover condo unit deposits under the federal Interstate Land Sales Act and the Florida False Advertising Statute.
Both laws were passed to fight fraudulent
Hollo said the lawsuits filed against
"When they couldn't make the extra money, they didn't want to close, and they sued for their deposit," he said. "It's human nature."
Hollo said he always felt the lawsuits were without merit.
"The brochures are not misleading," he said. "However, as any proper business, the contract defines each entire building and gives a complete survey. The spa, the pool, everything is in there, including the units."
Hollo said the contracts were given to potential buyers with instructions to read them carefully with a money-back guarantee good for 15 days.
"This is a big loss for consumer rights in the Southern District of Florida," Robbins said. "What this ruling says in essence is that developers can say almost anything in [their] advertising and
brochures as long as they use certain magic words and certain small-type disclaimers."
Cooper and two other attorneys who work for him have eschewed all other cases in favor of deposit litigation. He said he represents 800 clients seeking return of their money because of false claims by developers.
"Obviously, the false advertising statutes are designed to protect the consumer," he said. "The Legislature didn't intend for the consumer to be duped because they stick something in the fine print."
Cooper said he hopes Seitz's decision is case-specific and is not adopted by other "lazy" judges.
Real estate lawyer Jared Beck, a partner with Beck & Lee in
"It could have broader implications beyond
He said judges handling similar suits in
Beck, who also represents some
The 29 lawsuits filed by Robbins alleged four misrepresentations in the
But Seitz said each of the promises was negated by contract specifics:
• The pool is L-shaped at 2,530 square feet.
• No promises of a "view" from any unit or that any existing "view" would not be obstructed in the future.
• Tiles are understood to be subject to size, color, grain and quality variations.
• The legal description of the property places it a block from
"Plaintiffs are clearly not entitled to condominiums bearing a different address, constructed at a wholly separate location," Seitz wrote.
Robbins said the fine print in contracts should not be a way to avoid liability for lies made in advertising.
"We certainly know what is morally right has not been followed here," he said.
Hollo said the 635-unit
"I think things are starting to turn around," Hollo said of the condo market. "I think there's a little renaissance now, especially in the last 30 days.
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