So in late 1995, when Neils saw the advertisement in the daily Hamburger Abendblatt that read, "Live and Work in Florida," he called immediately.
Thus began the Teichfuhses' ill-fated relationship with one Anton Ludwig Philipp, a German-born real estate wheeler-dealer in Miami Beach.
Neils Teichfuhs sued Philipp in 1996, terming the Stuttgart native's condominium conversion business a "criminal enterprise" designed to bilk unsophisticated middle-class Germans. New Times interviews with two investors and several other business associates of Philipp, as well as inspection of court and city records, imply that Philipp is something less than an ideal landlord and businessman.
Several other investors contend they were scammed but did not file suit. Tenants of the buildings he operates describe flooding, broken appliances, bad wiring, and insect infestations -- as well as less than reputable, cash-only practices. And the state is investigating Philipp's holding company and two of his associates after complaints about their management procedures. In the past seven years Miami Beach code enforcement inspectors have cited his properties for more than 100 violations.
Philipp, who agreed to several telephone interviews for this story, vigorously denies his critics' claims, stressing that the operation of his projects, and of his holding company, EFS Properties, Inc., is aboveboard. The critics, he says, are either bitter, irresponsible, or themselves scam artists. He adds that he is working to remedy any code violations and has responded to the Teichfuhses' lawsuit with a counterclaim, blaming Teichfuhs for the failure of a conversion of the Riviera Apartments. Moreover, Philipp is charging ahead with at least two other condo conversion projects in Miami Beach and recently completed another.
Judging strictly from appearances, the five-foot, ten-inch, 41-year-old Philipp has succeeded in his business. A resident alien, he lives on the 25th floor of one of the poshest condos on the Beach: tony South Pointe Tower. He lives there with his wife Alina Vallenilla, whom he married in April 1996. He drives a Mercedes-Benz and has a reputation for throwing and attending extravagant parties, according to tenants, investors, and ex-employees. Philipp's visage once appeared in Tara Solomon's "Queen of the Night" society column in the Miami Herald.
Yet by his own account, Philipp has been convicted of a crime. In a sworn deposition in the Teichfuhs case, Philipp admitted that he was convicted in 1982 of fraud in Germany. He said he had "about a hundred employees" in a condo-conversion business there. Just a few of them "defrauded people by taking the deposit ... and even though I never saw the money and I never had any contact with [these clients], I was ultimately the president of the corporation and held responsible, and that was the basis of the conviction." He was sentenced to two years' probation.
Philipp says he immigrated to New York City in 1986 and continued converting apartments and hotels to condominiums. After three years he moved to Palm Beach County, then settled in Miami Beach in 1990 and began looking for small rental properties ripe for conversion.
Condo conversion is a common enterprise in Miami and Miami Beach. Entrepreneurs make a profit by buying buildings at a discount, selling individual units at a premium, paying off their bank loans, and then ending their involvement. State rules governing the process require inspections and full disclosure of financial arrangements.
Philipp's lengthy list of projects, all but one located on South Beach or Normandy Isle, includes at least seven buildings. He has lost or sold some of his projects. He never owned the Riviera Apartments on North Shore Drive, in which the Teichfuhses invested in 1996, though he leased it with an option to buy.
He is still selling the Sevilla Apartments at 642 Michigan Ave. and the Fashion Apartments at 818 Pennsylvania Ave. In April Philipp sold his controlling interest in a firm he established to operate Lucy's Apartments at 2033 Calais Dr. The new owners there claim they found the place in a physical and financial shambles. The Alawra Hotel at 1455 Michigan Ave., which Philipp began working on in 1996, has been converted to condos.
Physically and financially, these properties have been troubled. At the Riviera the owners terminated his lease in August 1996 after his Riviera Ventures, Inc., hadn't made rent payments for several months. A mortgage holder at the Alawra sued for foreclosure last August. That case is still pending. Mortgage holders at Lucy's and Sevilla filed to foreclose but recently dropped their cases. Lucy's, the Alawra, and Fashion have been cited for code violations such as broken stucco, doors and windows in need of repair, water damage, improperly installed air conditioning units, and uncovered electrical boxes. According to city records, none of these problems has been remedied.