For 29 years, it was a quiet neighborhood. Now residents are in turmoil because the city told residents they have to form an association to maintain roads. The city threatened to fine them if they didn’t, and that’s when they turned to Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

It’s a small neighborhood in Sweetwater. Maria Balladares remembers growing up here.

Maria Balladares: “It was amazing. Everyone was young at that time, so we would all go out. It was a good time to play in the streets.”

But now these streets are causing problems.

Maria Balladres: “And it’s scary. It’s scary, the tactics that they’re using. Scary tactics.”

The problem goes back to 1988, when a developer got a variance that allowed him to build 91 homes instead of 50 if he created an association to maintain the private roads and drains. But after the construction was finished, the association was dissolved in 1992.

And 29 years later, Sweetwater is telling homeowners they have to restart the association.

Jorge Perez: “I laughed at it. Really, I did. I said these people are joking.”

Sweetwater sent each of the 91 residents a violation notice warning. if they didn’t form a condo association with 30 days they would face $500 fines.

Maria Balladares: “A municipal code violation of 14-2, which is for condominiums, and we’re not condominiums. We are single home family homes.”

Sweetwater now admits the notice to form a condo association was a mistake, but says since the residents own the private roads and drains, they need to start paying monthly assessments to maintain them all.

Jorge Perez: “No, some of these folks are living day by day. They just don’t have the money. That’ll drive us broke.”

In an email, Miami-Dade Public Works confirmed that the “internal roads, including drains, are private and to be maintained by the HOA.”

But Maria says when the drains clogged and the streets flooded in 2000, the government took care of it.

Maria Balladres: “Correct, and now they’re telling us it’s our job to do it.”

The residents say they were never told the roads were private and have gone to city hall to fight being forced to form an association.

Homeowners have written letters in English and Spanish saying, “No association.”

Maria Balladres: “My mother wouldn’t sleep, my father has blood pressure that went up the roof.”

Well Howard, what can you tell the residents?

Howard Finkelstein: “This is actually a very complicated legal issue. First of all, the city cannot force the residents to form an association and they cannot fine them under the condo law since they are not condos. But legally, the roads are private and the residents have to maintain them. The city could form a special taxing district to bill the residents to maintain the property, but you don’t want to do that because it is complicated and political dynamite.”

Orlando Lopez: “They have to maintain their association basically afloat.”

Sweetwater Mayor Orlando Lopez says because the residents own the roads, even if they tried to give them to Sweetwater, the city couldn’t accept them.

Orlando Lopez: “Right now, the roads in there are not of proper width and there are no sidewalks. When you don’t have any sidewalks, they’re not ADA compliant and the city cannot take over those roads.”

But Lopez understands the city cannot force the residents to form an association to pay to repair their property.

Orlando Lopez: “Eventually, they’re going to end up with potholes on the streets, they’re going to have drains that are collapsed or not gonna drain.”

Jorge’s reply: The residents have been paying taxes for Sweetwater to maintain the city for decades, and now it’s time these residents got their money’s worth.

Jorge Perez: “What do I want? For them to leave us alone and to fix our road that we pay taxes for.”

And while the city says they cannot accept the roads, legally they can take them over. But they might one day have to bring them up to code. Again, as Howard said, it’s complicated.

Road hard and drained? Ready to pave a new way? Associate with us. No fines, no fees, hopefully just a sweet solution.

Reporter: Patrick Fraser at
Miami-Dade: 305-953-WSVN
Broward: 954-761-WSVN

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