A legal battle has begun at a mid-island Longboat Key condominium complex.
Arbomar resident Pete DiNicola has sued his condominium association and members of its board for allegedly sanctioning illegal work. He also claims they fired the whistleblower who brought the allegations to light.
“The board is very hostile against the owners here, and, of course, the owners are really hostile against the board,” said Arbomar resident and former Building Manager Kent Lagro, who alleges the board fired him in June for challenging the unlicensed renovations to at least three of the 31 units that make up the condominium.
DiNicola claimed in the May 28 lawsuit, filed with the 12th Judicial Circuit Court in Manatee County, that Arbobar Condominium Association President Walter Major performed unlicensed contracting work to his own unit and another board member’s unit. Arbomar board members Bill Baxter, Ed Kaczynski and Judith Spiezio were named in the suit, in which DiNicola claimed damages greater than $15,000.
The complaint accuses the defendants of violating the condominium association’s covenants and breaching their fiduciary duty.
“These breaches exhibit wanton and willful disregard of human rights, safety and property, in that they impacted the safety of the building, and as a result caused a substantial reduction in the fair market value of (DiNicola’s) unit,” the suit states.
Lagro and DiNicola contend the interior alterations Major performed created fire and other hazards to the building.
DiNicola also filed an emergency motion with the Circuit Court June 27 to remove the four individuals named in the original suit from the board and name a third party to take over the condominium association’s administrative duties.
Major admitted he does not have a contractor’s license in Florida but said Lagro was aware of the planned renovations and didn’t indicate a permit would be required, according to a June 16 response to the allegations. Lagro said it was never his job to assure the work had the proper permitting.
Longboat Key Building Official Wayne Thorne said one unit had been “red-tagged” for not having proper documentation, but that the town has issued three permits for interior alterations at the condominium relating to the case. The town can’t investigate whether there have been illegal alterations in the past.
“I am proceeding as quickly as possible, at my own personal expense, to correct this error with the assistance of the building department and contractors licensed in Florida,” Major said in the response.
In a June 20 letter to Arbomar unit owners, Major wrote the board had decided to employ a professional management company and had not signed an employment agreement extension with Lagro. During those negotiations, the condo association spent $2,500 on legal counsel from Adams and Reese LLP without public notice to the association, according to DiNicola’s suit.
“The board is committed to providing transparency throughout this process and will be sending frequent communications regarding our progress,” Major said in the letter. “During this time the board asks for your support and patience as we work together to ensure a bright future for the Arbomar owners.”
Lagro had just finished landscaping work when he saw the June notice, which he says was his only notification of the board’s decision.
DiNicola said he hadn’t seen any documentation about Lagro’s past performance that would justify his termination.
“That’s not my concern,” Lagro said. “My concern is this building — if something ever happened to this building because of illegal work it would be a tragedy.”
Contact Alex Mahadevan at [email protected]