Miami Condo Manager Claims Retaliatory Firing
Daily Business Review
Carla Vianna
09 September 2016 

Courvoisier Courts condominium at 701 Brickell Key Blvd, Miami

When Denise August was named property manager of the Courvoisier Courts condominium in Miami's Brickell Key in 2014, she began tackling issues plaguing the condo association: Reserves were depleted, an insurance policy was due to expire, and the garage needed immediate repairs, according to a complaint filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.

August was employed by KW Property Management & Consulting, a Miami-based company that describes itself as one of the largest high-rise property management providers in Florida.

Early in her tenure, August allegedly noticed suspicious activity taking place at the posh 27-story tower at 701 Brickell Key Blvd.

When she reported violations to KW and the association's board, she was met with "indifference and then hostility," according to the complaint filed last year.

August claims the board had not maintained the legally required reserves for a condo, and proceeds from a $750,000 special assessment were used for unintended purposes, according to the complaint.

the garage had been deemed "extremely hazardous" by an engineer and lost its insurance coverage

The condo board didn't notify new buyers and tenants that the garage had been deemed "extremely hazardous" by an engineer and lost its insurance coverage, the complaint said. She also alleged insurance fraud, closed-door board meetings, failure to promptly approve full funding for garage repairs, delaying repair to a damaged generator and keeping former tenants' deposit checks without legal justification.

Her objections led to her termination, prompting her lawsuit against the company and condo association under the Florida Whistleblower's Act.

In the complaint filed May 2015, August alleged KW Property Management LLC and Courvoisier Courts Condominium Association Inc. took retaliatory action against her for objecting to the alleged violations at the Brickell Key high-rise. She tacked on a count of tortious interference against the association, which Courvoisier moved to dismiss July 14.

KW general counsel Frank Simone said the company had "legitimate, nonretaliatory reasons" for firing August. He said, "There were a lot of things going on in [August's] life" at the time.

"We have claimed that she was terminated because she did bad work," the Miami attorney said. "These are issues that are going to be ligated, and a court will decide. There may be counterclaims brought against her for things she did as well. We don't believe that KW did anything wrong."

she was fired for raising life-safety concerns about the garage and generator

Following her termination in January 2015, August also filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, saying she was fired for raising life-safety concerns about the garage and generator.

In a response to the OSHA complaint, Simone said the property and equipment at issue is owned by Courvoisier Courts and controlled by its board, not KW. He added, "There were no recognized workplace hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to any KWPM employee."

"Among other things, [August] failed to execute directives including a directive for the very remedial work complained of by claimant ..., was rude to customers and coworkers, failed to follow procedure and exhibited unprofessional conduct," he wrote.

Another battle is brewing against KW Property a few miles north. A virtual petition asking the condo board to consider other management firms when KW's contract expires this month has circulated at Venetia, a tower on Biscayne Bay at 555 NE 15th St. in downtown Miami.

Created by a group dubbed the Concerned Homeowners of Venetia, the petition has secured over 100 signatures. While there are over 300 units in the condo, over half are owned by absentee owners, said Lori Durham, a 20-year resident.

We can never get anything done because nobody cares

"Excess of 100 people doing anything at Plaza Venetia is like having the president kicked out of office," Durham said. "We can never get anything done because nobody cares."

Residents have alleged mismanagement by KW personnel ranging from the property manager's failure to pay property taxes on time, which has resulted in late fees; failure to collect rent from a building-owned rental unit for nearly a year; lack of attention to a number of hazards; and poor customer service.

While no property management firm is "a dream come true," Durham said, "these people are a disaster."

Simone said Durham has filed numerous complaints with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, yet the state agency has never found any merit in her allegations.

"I am fortunate to have a lot of clients, and I get to observe a lot of various corporate cultures," Simone said. "I can assure you that the owners of [KW Property] are some of the most responsible and ethical clients that I have ever represented. In the few instances in which they have made a mistake, they have readily admitted to the same and done everything possible to remedy the situation."

August is represented by Douglas Broeker, a managing member of the Sweetapple, Broeker & Varkas Miami office. Broeker declined to comment.

Adam Cervera, an attorney with Becker & Poliakoff in Miami, and Robin Campbell, a partner with Kaplan Zeena in Miami, represent Courvoisier. Both attorneys declined to comment.

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