Four Seasons Accused of "Massive Fraud" by Condo Owners

Categories: Unreal Estate
450px-Four_Seasons_Hotel_Miami_east_poolside_view.jpg
Marc Averette via wikimedia commons
The Four Seasons Hotel on Brickell Avenue
Growing up in communist Poland, Bozena Sawa secretly idealized the glittering luxury hotels that dotted capitalist Western Europe and the United States. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, she moved to New York and fell in love with the gilded Four Seasons on Fifth Avenue.

So she couldn't believe her luck when, while living in Miami, the haute hotel chain announced sales for special apartments at its new tower on Brickell. Sawa leaped at the chance to invest.

"I equated the Four Seasons with perfection," she says. "I couldn't possibly imagine that I'd be ripped off."


Sawa is one of nearly a dozen plaintiffs who say the Four Seasons tricked them into buying doomed condominium hotel units. According to their lawsuit, the hotel -- along with developer Millennium Partners -- "duped" investors such as Sawa into paying grossly inflated prices for the condos by promising $5,000 per month in returns. Then, instead of advertising the units as promised, the Four Seasons hid them from renters in order to make money off of its hotel rooms.

Neither the hotel nor the developer could be reached for comment, but they are battling the lawsuit -- and two others like it -- in court.

The trio of lawsuits has tarnished the Four Seasons Millennium tower, Miami's tallest building. It was completed in late 2003, shortly before Sawa signed for a small studio apartment on the 33rd floor overlooking the bay. Lured by the Four Seasons name and brokers' promises of sure-thing returns, she forked over an astonishing $500,000 for the 624-square-foot apartment plus $30,000 for Four Seasons-approved furniture.

Hotel representatives told Sawa their international marketing machine would ensure that her condo was rented and give her 80 percent. But she and fellow condo owners quickly noticed something was wrong: Despite a booming economy, no one was renting.

"The financial performance was horrible," says Jose Guardado, a midlevel executive at a software firm who spent $800,000 on a one-bedroom on the 35th floor. "We couldn't understand what was going on."

When Guardado, Sawa, and others complained, they were told to give the new hotel time to advertise.

By 2007, condo owners had banded together. They called the hotel, pretending to be foreigners interested in renting their apartments.

"They would tell us that the apartments didn't exist," Guardado says. "Once I called and they told me: 'Why would you rent that one? It's more expensive than a regular hotel room.' "

That was when Guardado says he finally realized the scam: Not only did Four Seasons refuse to advertise the condo hotels, but also it rented them only when the hotel was full and priced them exorbitantly year-round. While the hotel enjoyed 60 percent occupancy, the condos were empty 310 days a year -- losing money.

"We were supposed to have the hotel's giant marketing machine working for us," Guardado says. "Instead, that marketing machine was working against us to make the hotel rich at our expense."

When they learned of the scheme, Sawa and Guardado tried to sell. But word had leaked and the condos were widely considered "radioactive." Guardado went into bankruptcy. Sawa lost the condo as well as her apartment on Collins Avenue.

"They destroyed me completely," says Sawa, who drained her savings trying to salvage the investment. "I lost seven years of my life over that unit."

Among those that she blames are Bill Gates and Saudi prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, who together now own 95 percent of the Four Seasons empire.

"He should change the name to 'The Bill and Melinda Gates and Bozena Sawa Foundation,'" she says of the Microsoft founder, "because he's been giving away my money too."

A jury trial will begin next May. Guardado is seeking $1.1 million in damages, but not the condo.

"They can keep the place," he says.

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Wendy
Wendy

Freaking losers, nobody is as stupid as these people claim to be. Condo hotel owners always complain when they don't make money. They are the worst kind of speculators in real state as they never buy intending to live in the property. Hotel chains (that only manage but not develop and/or sell the apartments) are always careful not to even meet potential buyers. The selling process is 100% done by the developer and not hotel management.

Visual pollution
Visual pollution

Eye Sore?

Anyone see all the monstrous new billboards going up? City of Miami encourages visual pollution.

Matthew Earl
Matthew Earl

Tear all these condos down. They are an eye sore to the city skyline.

Guest
Guest

Your fat face is an eye sore. ZIIIING.

MiaNo
MiaNo

It's ironic that they wanted to sell the condos and dupe someone else. Luckily word got out about these units. I would love to hear from the people they were trying to sell these units to.

Bozena_Sawa
Bozena_Sawa

 Hello MiaNo :  Little knowledge is a dangerous thing and can hurt people.      Yes, I mean that little, very tiny, close to zero is your knowledge  about real estate. And you seem to know very little about people: buyers, sellers and observers, sharks and their victims.       No, "they" (and so you also mean me, don't you) did not walk and call around pushing their radioactive units  on  anybody! They (so, yes,  also me) placed their units with real estate agencies which put those units on real estate websites including the Miami Four Seasons  real estate webesite and that was almost always the end of "their" (so also mine) involvement.     Hundreds of thousands of people have been visiting those websites. And few, very few as little as looked and the Miami Four Seasons offerings; BY THEN a half of the world, and certainly the brainy part KNEW  about the units radioactivity. How? Because of the massive effort to sell the units by "them", as you call us (that is me and other condo hotel owners). And you surely know what a massive exodus from anywhere --be it a city, house or ship means, don't you. It always means some kind of disaster.        But, is there anything wrong with jumping a burning, flooded or radioactive city, house or ship and even hope to recover the losses?  -- The educated and experienced know it is not. On the contrary. And that's because there are, thanks God, many people different than us in this world. There  are enough brave firefighters, lifeguards and terrorists who who love and make great deals of flames, water and uranium we fear. Among them  are billionaires for whom spending a million on a whim is, as a rule, nothing. Miami had been known for attracting all kinds of filthy rich individuals who would buy an expensive condo for reasons an ordinary man could not even imagine.      So each time a stranger--total of 3 or 4 in a year!-- who read my real estate ad on the internet and got hold of me expressing interest in the unit, grabbing his button, not to lose him, before being asked  I would throw at him numerous possibities: "The unit is big enough for an electric train for your little son..., It  has  high enough ceilings for a few quite tall, young palm trees to give it a  romantic look you and your dear ones love...., Your secretary will enjoy it..., It will no doubt enchant even your very picky girlfriend, or partner... I don't think the management would allow you to keep a German Dog but a cat...maybe or a fish bowl.... I know for sure the glass of the window is so strong that a bullet from your accidently fired gun will not break it"...      "Stop it", I would hear sooner rather than later. " I neither travel with nor keep a son, secretary, dog, fish, cat , girlfriend or a partner, and I don't own a gun. All I want is TO MAKE MONEY!!!" The only possible response was and I gave it without fail : "You want to make money on a Miami Four Seasons condo hotel ?! Don't make me laugh! Forget it".     

P_Nis
P_Nis

Sucker born every minute. If it was such a fantastic money maker, what kind of idiot would believe that they'd sell the units rather than keep the income?

Canyon Ranch
Canyon Ranch

The Canyon Ranch resort at 69th Street on Collins Avenue has the same problems.

Luis Rosales
Luis Rosales

Welcome to Miami Sawa, make sure to tell all your friends back home how we do business down here.

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