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MIAMI BEACH (CBSMiami) – They are tourists who have traveled from Tennessee on vacation in the heart of glamorous Miami Beach. Their choice of vacation digs? The Octagon Towers Residential Condominium.
“It’s been great,” they told CBS4’s Chief Investigator Michele Gillen who met them outside the building at 1881 Washington Avenue.
As seen in photos advertising, the apartment they were staying in, the building sits directly across from the Miami Beach Convention Center and just blocks from the beach.
Their excitement over the upcoming trip was shared on Facebook in postings that described the trip as a one-week vacation in Miami beginning Sunday April 19th and lasting through April 26th.
How did they find their Octagon vacation rental?
“Internet,” all three declared to Gillen.
What wasn’t advertised on the internet rental ads – describing the apartment and property – were the two red warning flyers that are posted to the front door of Octagon Towers.
One was issued by the fire chief of Miami Beach who deemed that the operation of the building as a hotel as an “imminent life safety danger.”
The other posting cautions that power to the entire building will be shut off in 30 days if owners don’t cease and desist from leasing apartments to short term renters.
In the opinion of the fire chief, short-term rentals are those for less than 30 days.
Faced with the publicly posted warning that the building is considered an unsafe structure because of alleged fire code violations, long term residents and owners are upset and worried.
One woman, who identified herself as France, told Gillen, “I am so angry about these things. I can’t stand it anymore. I choose this as my home. This is my home. ”
It was back in December 2014 that the city wrote up the Octagon as an unsafe structure because so many apartments were allegedly being rented out for short term vacation rentals. According to the fire department, that’s anything under 30 days.
According to a review of city documents, because these apartments do not have individual fire sprinklers, renting these apartments as short term rentals is illegal – a violation that could cost everyone.
Another concerned owner named Pete said, “Stuff like that means people can get thrown out of their homes.”
Phil added that it could cost him…”my home.”
Some owners have likened the lobby of the Octagon over the past tourist season to that of a motel – an avalanche of luggage, tourists and strangers with total access.
“We want peace in our house,” France said. “We want a safe place to live. But now we don’t know who our neighbor is. Each week I have a different neighbor. I can’t stand this anymore.”
The public warnings went up at the end of the March and mid-April.
But a visit to the web shows reviews from vacationers over the past months and years of short term rentals – one after another, in apartment after another.
Yet, now the stakes seem to be higher than ever with the possibility of the entire building being shut down if individual owners continue to rent for less than 30 days.
The vacationers from Tennessee told Gillen they were staying at the Octagon for “about three weeks.”
When Gillen responded that three weeks was not technically allowed at the building, according to decisions by the fire chief, one short term renter said, “Oh, I didn’t know that.”
Asked if they paid for a month’s stay the answer was “no. ”
CBS4 News wanted to talk to the man who owns the apartment they rented, Sigmond Esposito. Known online as Siggy, he is an Octagon condo board director.
But none of the calls placed to Esposito were returned. Neither were calls made to other Octagon condo owners who had rented out their apartments for rentals for less than 30 days. Attempted calls to the condominium management office were met with hang ups or not returned. Calls to the president of the condominium board were also not returned.
The CBS4 News investigation found that those short term rentals – under 30 days – are anything but new at Octagon Towers.
Documents obtained by CBS4 showed that the Octagon was warned by the fire department 4 years ago about short term rentals, following complaints.
In a 2011 report the building was warned:
“If these types of rentals are to continue, a change in occupancy must be requested which will require 100 percent sprinkler protection.”
The building never installed sprinklers. A vote passed to opt out of a sprinkler installation that could be a costly retrofit.
Yet following that vote, the internet is full of reviews by short term vacationers who stayed in apartment after apartment at Octagon Towers, praising week long stays.
CBS4 News repeatedly reached out to the City of Miami Beach requesting a television interview with the fire chief and or city attorney and or any appropriate city official to discuss the news investigation including findings and tenant concerns. All requests were turned down.
The city provided CBS4 with a statement that reiterated the publicly posted warnings and added that “code compliance officials are in discussion with the condominium manager to gather details on any unit owner who may continue to engage in short term rentals, despite the cited violations.”
Meanwhile, the vacationers from Tennessee?
From all appearances, according to tenants at the building, they wrapped up their vacation stay at Octagon Towers on Saturday April 25th, following a six night stay.