TALLAHASSEE – A Tallahassee office complex that allegedly had as much as 10 pounds of bat feces in its ceiling, in addition to low air quality and other unhealthy conditions, is continuing a legal battle against the state of Florida, despite a court ruling that could weaken its case.
"We are committed to this property and to Tallahassee, where we have been a significant property taxpayer and member of the business community for the past eight years," Stuart Silberberg, a principal with Ajax Advisors, the parent company of Northwood Associates, told the Florida Record.
In April, multiple Florida government agencies that had offices in Northwood Centre began moving out, after several employees got sick and studies found the allegedly unhealthy conditions. State legislators ordered a stop to lease payments to the complex, and the state's Department of Business and Professional Regulation filed a lawsuit. That lawsuit came one day after Northwood Associates filed its own suit, attempting to stop the state from moving the employees out of the complex.
"We place an overarching priority on the health, safety and well-being of anyone who works in or visits the property," Silberberg said. "Northwood Centre is, and has been, a safe environment for workers and visitors. While isolated issues have arisen over the years – as they will in any large commercial building, particularly in a hot and humid environment – they have been dealt with quickly and appropriately."
Silberberg went on to say that the complex has conducted a ranger of tests over the past year or more that have found no evidence of issues that would impact public health, saying the air quality was said to be at least as good as the air outside the building. He even said the agency had tests conducted on nights and weekends to accommodate the agencies working there.
Northwood Associates' lawsuit is claiming that it's unconstitutional for the state to stop paying a lease by removing the money for those leases from the state budget.
"As stated in our complaint, the proviso language purports to prohibit state funds from being used to pay for agency leases at Northwood Centre beginning July 1, but the General Appropriations Act separately includes funds specifically to fund those leases – rendering the proviso language invalid," Silberberg said. "This funding remained in the budget even after the proviso language was added. Therefore, any attempt to forbid payment of the Northwood Centre leases is an unconstitutional impairment of those leases."
A recent court ruling may have an impact on that, however. Early last month, an appeals court ruled that the Department of Corrections is not liable for breaking a lease in Brevard County because the rent money was not in the state budget. In fact, the case was won by summary judgment of a three-judge panel, meaning a hearing wasn't even held. On the surface, this would seem to hurt Northwood's case. A spokesman for Northwood has said that company officials believe there are clear differences in the cases that will be proven during a hearing.
"Northwood Associates is asking the court for an injunction prohibiting the state actions, as well as unspecified compensatory damages," Silberberg said. "But beyond that, we are determined to resolve any issues and move past the current commotion so that we can restore the reputation of the building as an excellent location for office operations."