Tenants in the Mariners Place apartments have less than two weeks to find homes after the building was declared unsafe for occupancy. ALEX RICKERT/Keys Weekly

Tenants in Mariners Place, a 15-unit apartment building located at 20 Coco Plum Dr., are scrambling to find a place to live after receiving notification that they must vacate the building by the first week in March.

The sudden news is a result of the ordinance passed by the City of Marathon requiring inspection and recertification for multistory buildings more than 17 years old. Originally approved in September 2021 for all structures and amended in January 2022 to include only multistory buildings, the ordinance’s intent was to prevent tragedies like Miami’s Surfside condominium collapse in June 2021 that resulted in 98 deaths.

The ordinance requires property owners to hire state-certified engineers to inspect the structure and electrical systems of multistory buildings and report their findings to the City of Marathon. Along with 36- and 42-page photo reports detailing electrical and structural concerns, respectively, found during a Jan. 7 inspection, a letter submitted on Feb. 15 by Nestor Cueto of Miami-based Cueto Engineering declared the building unfit for occupancy.

“It has been determined that the building requires significant structural repairs as outlined in the written report for building structural recertification,” Cueto wrote. “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.”

In light of the letter, the city said it had no choice but to declare a cessation of the building’s use due to life safety concerns. Early reports and postings on social media indicated that the building had been entirely condemned, but this was not the case. While the city originally required the premises to be vacated within 48 hours, extensive meetings with the building’s ownership and management teams resulted in a short extension, giving the owners 15 days to rehome tenants.

“The system worked as designed and residents of the building are being safely relocated before a tragedy can occur,” said Marathon City Manager George Garrett in a statement on Feb. 17. “The owners of the building have been quite cooperative. We are working with them in order to find affordable housing solutions for their tenants.”

Several tenants indicated that they were first informed of the situation via a phone call on the night of Feb. 16 from landlord contact Jessica Bordeal. In a letter to tenants dated Feb. 16, the Mariners Place Land Corporation advised tenants of the results of the inspection. “We will be returning all security deposits in full as normal…as long as everything is normal in your unit,” said the letter. “We deeply apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you.”

Though the letter indicated that tenants would be welcome to return to their units upon completion of repairs, Bordeal told Keys Weekly that she did not know if tenants’ previous rental rates would be honored: $1,400 for a two-bedroom unit, $1,300 for a one-bedroom. 

“Rates have not been discussed, and that would be up to the owner,” said Bordeal. “We don’t even have a timeline on repairs yet. If we kept the rates the same, that’s pretty cheap compared to the market rate now.”

Bordeal did not have a current tally of registered tenants but estimated that between two and four tenants share each apartment, meaning that somewhere between 30 and 60 Marathon residents are suddenly without homes. Many took to social media or other outlets to voice their displeasure and pick from a slim list of alternative housing options.

“(I am a) 36-year resident of Marathon with excellent credit and references,” wrote one tenant in a Facebook group for Marathon housing rentals. “We just found out about this last evening. Everyone (is) scrambling. Been on the phone and net since last night searching for anything.”

“My boyfriend lives there with his elderly mother who’s sick,” another told Keys Weekly. “They’ve been there for more than a year. This isn’t right.”

One 16-year resident of the building was complimentary of the landlords’ conduct during her tenancy, but called the current situation “impossible.” “You know the market as it comes to rentals right now. There’s nothing really in town,” she said. “When somebody tells you you have 12 days, you can’t even process it.

“It’s an old building, and I expected that this was going to happen sooner or later, but I thought it would be in a different manner,” she continued. “They should give us a little more time, at least until April 1. I luckily found something, but it’s not available until late March, so I’m basically going to be homeless with my children for three weeks.”

Keys Weekly will update this story as it develops.

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