Furor In Miami Beach After 75-Year-Old Evicted As Hurricane Approached
South Florida was expecting king tides, flooding and possibly direct impact from Hurricane Dorian on Friday night. The governor had declared a state of emergency. Families were stocking up water. Prisoners were being moved to safer facilities.
In Miami Beach, though, a 75-year-old woman, her disabled 55-year-old son and her 81-year-old brother were getting evicted by her landlord and county police, their belongings tossed into the street from the apartment where the woman had lived for 28 years.
Maria Cazañes, a 75-year-old woman living at 735 Euclid Ave., told news reporters that earlier in August, she had twice tried to pay her rent but her landlord refused to accept it or renew her lease because she had too many cats, the Miami New Times reports.
In Miami Beach, where the average rent is $2,017 a month (according to RENTCafé) and Airbnb is putting pressure on affordability for locals, the eviction resulted in blowback against landlords, police and politicians.
Cazañes had been making a cafecito when her landlord arrived with Miami-Dade County Police to throw her out, according to the New Times. She hadn't understood an eviction notice she received because it was in English and she only speaks Spanish.
"Witnesses say the eviction was brutal: Cazañes, with her hands pressed together as in prayer, begged for one more day and pleaded to be able to get her shoes, phone, paperwork, and medicine. All the while, her landlord stood with his arms across his chest as his associates threw her belongings over the railing of the second-story apartment and onto the street."
"Shameful," a Miami Beach neighbor, Rafael Velasquez, posted on Facebook with a photo. "This is how some investor/landlords treat our Miami Beach senior citizens."
Velasquez is running for city commission. Upon seeing his post, Velasquez said, Miami Beach City Commissioner John Elizabeth Aleman mobilized help. Miami Beach police arrived, and called the fire department, which let Cazañes in the apartment to access her medication.
Cazañes, her 81-year-old brother, and son were taken to the Salvation Army, while neighbors took care of Cazañes' 15 cats and three turtles. Neighbors started a GoFundMe page so that the family could pay for a security deposit, rent a new apartment and buy new furniture. It had raised $6K of its $10K goal as of Wednesday morning.
Velasquez told Bisnow that Cazañes and her family receive no government assistance, and their only income is what her brother earns working seven days a week cleaning a mini-mart. They had considered pursuing legal action but just want to put the eviction behind them, he said. He was helping them find a new apartment on Miami Beach.
Public records list the owner of 735 Euclid Ave. as Equal Partnership Ltd., run by Mark Muhlrad. The market value of the 16-unit multifamily property is listed as $2.7M.
Neighbors told Channel 10 that the complex functions as low-income housing, where residents have no lease, pay cash rents, have repairs that go unfixed and are routinely threatened with eviction.
Muhlrad has in the past faced controversy over operation of his Starlite Hotel on Ocean Drive. He didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Following the incident, leaders from the city, county and state all moved to file legislation that would halt evictions during emergencies, the Miami New Times reported.
The eviction highlights increasing pressure on real estate on Miami Beach. Velasquez said he recently led a protest at another multifamily complex where a developer had bought it and raised rents — a tactic that residents believed was meant to drive them out so the site could be rezoned.
"I see that the real estate market is hot and developers want to develop here. It is a natural process," said Velasquez, who is a real estate broker himself. "It's going to happen. Nobody can change that."
But he would like to see solutions such as developers giving evictees several months to find new apartments, especially if those developers want rezoning for their projects.
"I want to see developers work hand in hand with the community — not just take from us," he said.
CORRECTION, SEPT. 4, 2:50 P.M. ET: An earlier version of this story misstated when Cazañes had previously tried to pay her rent. It was earlier in August. The story has been updated.