Paul Zelenski had just moved into a beautiful new apartment in a 19-story building at 2500 Biscayne Blvd. last fall
No one mentioned the building was also being used for short-term rentals when Zelenski took a tour and signed a year-long lease last summer, so he asked the management company what was going on. That set off a months-long chain of evasive nonanswers and bizarre denials. Meanwhile, apartments in Zelenski's building — which rent for $2,000 to $3,200 per month — are still being posted online on Expedia, Hotels.com, and Booking.com, starting at $169 a night. Interestingly, on all three websites, booking a room at 2500 Biscayne Blvd. costs another $165 in taxes and fees.
But it's unclear where that tax money is
Assistant director of code compliance Lazaro-Daniel Orta later said the city is investigating the matter.
"Wynwood Design District Apartments by NUOVO features an outdoor pool and a fitness center," a description of the property on Expedia.com reads. "Dining options at the apartment include a restaurant and a coffee shop/café." There's also a business center, a meeting room, and "public areas equipped with complimentary wired and wireless Internet access."
"This Miami apartment," the listing goes on, "also offers a terrace, barbecue grills, and a garden." The rooms come with "free WiFi" and "premium bedding." The pool, fitness room, stellar views, and spacious, well-furnished lobby attracted renters like Zelenski, who unknowingly signed leases binding them to live in a building that's advertised on Hotels.com.
On that site, Booking.com, and Expedia, the apartments are advertised as hotel suites by Nuovo, which the Florida Department of State's database lists as a Miami-based, short-term rental company owned by Nicolas Ortega. The 2500 Biscayne Blvd. property is managed by Rivergate KW Residential, according to the company's website. The units are listed as apartments, even though they're seemingly rented as hotel rooms: "Apartment, 2 bedrooms. 970 square feet. Two double beds: one queen bed, one sofa bed. Room sleeps up to six guests."
When Zelenski confronted his management company about the transients checking in like at a hotel, he says someone at Rivergate KW Residential initially told him those were "corporate rentals." Then, when he followed up by email, Rivergate KW Residential's community manager for 2500 Biscayne Blvd., Odra Villegas, wrote: "We are not able to discuss other residents, occupants, and leaseholders with you... All adult residents and occupants of the community are required to provide identifying information and pass the same neutral criminal background screening.”
So what does it all mean? Four emails and three phone calls to Villegas, Rivergate KW Residential's regional manager Yanira Herrera, and the company's president, Marcie Williams, over the course of a week all went unanswered. When New Times visited the company's office in Doral, a man who answered the door said only accountants worked in that location and they could not answer questions about why apartments at their property were advertised as hotel rooms with a nightly rate.
The only person from Rivergate KW Residential who did respond was Glendys, a leasing agent who declined to give her last name. "We're a rental community; we're not a hotel; we don't do anything that has to do with a hotel," Glendys said.
In a Google review this past November, someone named
Asked why, if the apartments are not being rented as hotel rooms, residents say they see people checking in and out of the building and the rooms are listed on hotel websites, Glendys responded, "Do I need to keep repeating myself to you? We're not a hotel. We're a rental community. People are not checking in or out."
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Four emails and six phone calls to Nuovo owner Nicola Ortega and his representative, Ycnaduy Gangi, weren't returned. When New Times visited Nuovo's office on SW Seventh Street and 15th Road, an employee said Ortega was in a meeting. Minutes later, a man who resembled Ortega walked in and then swiftly exited the room.
Finally, on December 20, Gangi responded with a letter — but only to say New Times' attempts to speak with Ortega were "unacceptable... Nuovo does not have a statement at this time. We do not have a statement at this time. Our client may have a statement after the publication, but we make no promises in that regard."
Orta, Miami's assistant director of code compliance, said if Nuovo and Rivergate KW Residential are found to be violating city zoning laws, they will be notified that short-term rental use is not allowed and they must cease operating as a hotel. If they do not comply, Orta said, the next step would be a hearing with the code enforcement board, where they and the city would present their cases. The board would then make a determination and give them a date by which to comply. If Nuovo and Rivergate KW Residential still refused to stop operating as a hotel by that date, they would be fined every day until they did.
"Whenever I try to get an answer, people just lie to me," Zelenski says. "I feel like I'm taking crazy pills."