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Timeshare battle over? Not quite

By SHEILA MULLANE ESTRADA
Published May 16, 2007


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Six months after the locks on their timeshare units were reportedly "glued" shut, Camelot owners have their condominium back - at least for now.

The lengthy, complicated and ongoing legal battle over ownership of the building began in December after the county seized and subsequently sold the 24-unit waterfront property to Luke Investments for unpaid taxes.

The timeshare owners filed a lawsuit challenging the tax sale, arguing that all of the more than 900 timeshare owners should have been notified of the delinquent taxes.

The county later admitted it had made a mistake in notifying only the condo association board and therefore the sale was invalid.

In March Circuit Court Judge Mark Shames officially revoked the sale, ruling that the county should have notified all owners of the pending tax sale. He ordered the property to be turned back to the timeshare owners.

Luke Investments initially wanted the turnover to be "stayed" pending its appeal of the March ruling.

In a hearing last week, the firm changed its mind, agreeing to return the condo to the timeshare owners.

In a related action, the judge denied the company's request that all money now held or collected in the future be controlled by the court.

"The judge agreed with us - the owners won, Luke Investments lost, and losers don't get to tell people what to do with their money, " said Lee Rightmyer, the attorney representing the timeshare owners.

Despite this "victory, " the legal battle between Luke Investments and the timeshare owners is far from over.

The company, which purchased the Camelot for $2-million at the tax sale, has appealed Shames' ruling to the 2nd District Court of Appeal.

"We will take it all the way to the Florida Supreme Court if we have to, " says Lynn Kassotis, vice president of Luke Investments, who predicts that process could take up to four years to resolve.

Because of the appeal, the company's $2-million purchase price paid to the county is still being held by the court.

Kassotis says if Luke Investments wins its appeal, the company will demand that the timeshare owners pay interest on the $2-million, and turn over any money now in the condo accounts and any fees yet to be collected by the condo association.

"We didn't do anything wrong. This is business for us, " Kassotis says. "We try not to come off as the bad guys, but now we are out $2-million and thousands in legal fees."

Meanwhile, the timeshare owners have hired a management company to get the building ready for use.

Dennis DiTinno, chief executive officer of the Liberte Management Group, says the condo complex is in severe disrepair.

He said the swimming pool, which was drained by Luke Investments, has about 3 feet of water that smells like a "sewer." The pool liner is damaged and should be replaced, he said.

The locks on the individual timeshare units were filled with "Superglue, " according to DiTinno, and had to be drilled out to access the apartments.

Inside, he said air conditioning in the individual units had been turned up so high that mildew began growing on the walls, carpets and furniture. Electrical appliances, including the refrigerators, were turned off.

Some of those refrigerators still had food in them, DiTinno said, and the stench in some units was "so thick you had to cut it."

DiTinno said it will cost about $26, 000 to replace equipment and make enough repairs to reopen the condo to timeshare owners by early June.

Just who the owners are and when they are scheduled to arrive is an open question.

"When we walked into the office, it was like a hurricane had gone through. There were papers everywhere, " DiTinno said.

Kassotis strongly denies that Luke Investments created that confusion or allowed the complex to deteriorate.

"That is a blatant lie, " said Kassotis. "We had a locksmith change all the locks. Nothing was Superglued."

She also denies that the company had anything to do with deteriorated equipment and damage in the apartments, where she said air conditioning units were set at 77 degrees.

"When we took over the place, it was in really bad condition. Everything was put together with a Band-Aid. I went through every unit and the appliances were all rusted out. It was a disaster. We wouldn't destroy our own property, " she said.

"This entire case is very political, " Kassotis maintains.

[Last modified May 16, 2007, 00:01:08]


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