In September 2015, Elizabeth De Amat texted her landlord, Louis Puig, about a leak coming from upstairs.
"The ceiling in the guest bathroom is leaking, and the floor is full of water," she wrote. "Can you please have someone come fix it?"
She says Puig — who founded legendary Miami dance club Space, which he sold three years ago— promised he would send a plumber, but weeks went by before a handyman arrived at the duplex on SW 27th Terrace. By January, a patch job had fallen through, leaving a gaping hole in the ceiling that caused a constant drip over the toilet.
By March, De Amat was so fed up that she found her own contractors and persuaded Puig to agree to allow her to remodel the bathroom and deduct the cost from the rent. But when the contractor began work, he found the interior of the wall was covered in black mold.
"That's what my daughter was sleeping next to," De Amat says. "The walls in this house are rotting. We only saw one, but I know that’s how all the walls are."
That's just one of the problems described by De Amat and her upstairs neighbors, who say they have begged Puig to make repairs and fix problems such as mold and slippery stairs that are hazardous to their health. But the tenants say they have been ignored or told that Puig is too busy to take care of them.
Reached on his cell phone, Puig declined to answer questions from New Times, saying only he had "no comment" regarding his tenants' complaints.
Before the ceiling problem, De Amat says, she generally had a good rapport with Puig after she and her husband, in-laws, and daughter moved into his rental property in 2013. At one point, she says, she asked permission to get a second dog, and he said it was fine because they were his "favorite tenants."
But there were early signs of future maintenance problems on the deteriorating property, which was built in 1986 and passed onto Puig after his father's death in 2011. Apprised of the fact that the air-conditioning system needed to be replaced, for example, De Amat says she and her husband shelled out $3,000 to install a new one, figuring they would be there for a long time and preferred to avoid regular malfunctions.
The upstairs neighbors, who have lived in the home for ten years, also say they have had problems with Puig, although they dearly loved his father, who was their landlord for about five years. Ramon Puig, whose name was synonymous with the introduction of Cuban guayaberas in Miami, died in 2011.
"This guy [Louis] the last five years has been basically pushing us to the limits for real," says Claudia Garmendia, who lives in the duplex with her husband and 19-year-old daughter. "He doesn't want to repair anything in the house."
Garmendia says she and her family have repeatedly fallen on the stairs outside their home, which are covered with tiles meant to be installed indoors, because they are slippery and have no traction. For three years, she says she's begged Puig to replace the tiles.
"The last two times, it was really scary," Garmendia says. "Last week, my daughter's face went through one of the sides of the stairs because of how bad she fell. It's like, what are you waiting for?"
Garmendia says Puig has also declined to fix a window that won't close properly, which she believes could let in moisture and cause mold. And when her washing machine broke this year, she says, Puig told her it was her problem.
"He was like, 'No I’m not going to repair anything. Buy one and when you leave, take the washing machine.' But I rent the unit with everything inside — how you gonna tell me that now?" she says.
Both De Amat and Garmendia, who say they pay their rent on time, were shocked when they received copies of their new leases earlier this month. The agreement Puig asked them to sign said the tenants would become responsible for all repairs and maintenance unless it was due to a fire that wasn't their fault. The lease further instructed that Puig could enter the premises without prior notice, which is prohibited in Florida (the law requires landlords to give a "reasonable" notice of at least 12 hours).
Worse still, the lease laid out language that said Puig could not be held liable if the renters were injured on the property and that if he sued them, they were responsible for paying his attorney's fees. Under the terms of the lease, the tenants would be forbidden from submitting a copy of the lease into the public record if they ever wanted to take him to court.
"What an insane contract," De Amat says. "Who would sign that?"
On Monday, both De Amat and Garmendia say, Puig gave them a 15-day notice to vacate the property. Both families are searching for a new place to live before the holidays. De Amat says she cannot find an affordable property nearby and might have to move 40 minutes away from her daughter's charter school, which is now within a block's walking distance. (Both tenants pay close to $2,000 a month for three-bedroom, two-bath units.)
De Amat believes Puig is pushing out her family and the other renters so he can raise the rent.
"This guy has put us in a really horrible situation, but he doesn't care," she says.
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