With less than one week until the deadline to vacate their building, many residents of Mariner’s Place apartments on Coco Plum Drive are still searching for answers.

The building is the first domino to fall in the wake of an ordinance passed in September 2021 requiring multistory buildings more than 17 years old to be inspected and recertified. The aim of the ordinance is to prevent a tragedy like Miami’s Surfside condominium collapse in June 2021 that killed 98 people.

In a Feb. 15 letter to Marathon building official Noe Martinez, Nestor Cueto of Miami-based Cueto Engineering declared the building unfit for occupancy, stating, “It is my professional opinion, due to the extent of structural damage to the building, the building is not considered safe for occupancy until repairs are completed.” The letter was paired with nearly 80 pages of photo reports detailing electrical and structural concerns in the building found during a Jan. 7 inspection.

In light of such blunt reports, the city said it had no choice but to order a cessation of the building’s use due to life safety concerns. And while tenants’ ire was understandably aimed at the city following the order to vacate, subsequent meetings between tenants and city officials on Feb. 18 and 24 focused on the condition of the building and role of the owners, Mariners Place Land Corporation, in the situation. 

“(The building is) in poor condition with widespread cracking and spalling,” inspectors wrote. “Electrically, the building has had no or very little maintenance throughout the years.”

Images from Cueto Engineering’s reports detail structural and electrical concerns with Mariner’s Place, including extensive concrete cracking and spalling, moisture intrusion, microbial growth, broken and corroded electrical fixtures, and exposed live wiring. CUETO ENGINEERING/Contributed.

“(The owners) should have maintained their building, and we’re going to try to alleviate pain to those people who live in that building,” said George Garrett, Marathon city manager. “But, we can’t pay the bill. That’s not our job to do.” Owners met with city staff on Feb. 22 to discuss next steps, but have not provided solutions to tenants or the city as the deadline to vacate approaches. 

An initial memo sent from ownership to tenants indicated that displaced residents would be welcomed back to the property upon completion of repairs. However, Garrett said the owners have not yet indicated whether they will demolish the structure entirely.

Garrett said the city is willing to let the building’s owners place temporary trailers on the property as repairs are completed, and that multiple individuals have come forward who are willing to allow trailers on their private properties to help displaced tenants. So far, however, the building’s owners have not offered to offset tenants’ expenses for relocation, stating only that “We will be returning security deposits in full as normal … as long as everything is normal in your unit,” in a letter to residents. 

“Everybody’s pointing fingers at each other, and then at the end of the day, we’re in the middle, and we’re paying the price,” one 16-year resident of the building told Keys Weekly. “I’m pretty sure there is blame. Maybe (the owners) didn’t do enough, but at the same time, how did the building go without any inspection for so long? We’re just trying to find a solution, and that’s what we should be focusing on.”

The logistics of acquiring, paying for, and connecting the trailers to basic utilities have yet to be determined, and tenants say they have received little concrete communication about their options for relocation. While some have been lucky enough to find alternative arrangements, relying on friends and family for temporary measures while waiting for openings in late March or early April, others have had no such luck. 

“My belongings are pretty much scattered all over town,” said one resident on Feb. 28. “I’m grateful for my friends and everyone who stepped up, because I was actually ready to just leave the Keys. There are some people who still have no idea where they’re going to go.”

An email to Keys Weekly from a concerned friend of a Mariner’s Place resident on Feb. 25 summarized the plight of many in the building: “A resident I spoke to today is contemplating buying an RV based on hearsay. The purchase would deplete her life savings. … These folks really need some answers.”

As of press time, Mariners Place Land Corporation had not responded to Keys Weekly’s inquiry regarding the ownership group’s plans for the building.

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