By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Control of the controversial Oceania Heights project should be handed over to a self-governing Homeowners Association, one purchaser yesterday saying this would help “clear up” all disputed issues and enable the development to “become what it should be”.
Speaking to Tribune Business ahead of next Friday’s scheduled meeting between developers and homeowners at the Exuma project, Chris Bain, one of the aggrieved purchasers, said he had also been sent an e-mail indicating that a “consul” from the US Embassy would be present.
That move, likely intended to safeguard the interests of American homeowners at Oceania Heights, indicated that the dispute is on Washington’s “radar”, Mr Bain said, something that might add to the pressure on both developers and the Bahamian government.
As for his own situation, Mr Bain alleged that the developers - Canadian citizen Howard Obront and Bahamian attorney Anthony Thompson - had sold him an Oceania Heights lot that had already been conveyed to another buyer.
Given that his conveyance lay ‘second in the queue’ behind the other purchaser, the late Dr Gleb Nedzel, Mr Bain told Tribune Business that he had effectively “got nothing” for his $400,000 purchase - no valid title documents, and land that he did not possess.
Suggesting that Oceania Heights’ problems required a “two layer” solution, Mr Bain told Tribune Business: “One would be from the personal perspective, and that is: ‘We want our money back.’ They have to refund it. We got nothing, for heaven’s sake.
“The ownership of the whole development should be handed over to a Community Association, so it can self-govern itself and deal with all those issues - getting clear title deeds, paying Stamp Duty so people can sell their properties.
“The bulk of the people can’t even sell their properties. It needs to be resolved and cleared up. It’s a beautiful piece of real estate.
“The Community Association could bring in an administrator so Oceania Heights could become what it should be: A beautiful gated community. It’s just gorgeous. That’s why we all bought there.”
The beauty of Oceania Heights is possibly the only thing that the developers and homeowners may agree on, for Messrs Obront and Thompson have frequently denied all the allegations that have been made against them.
The main complaints of Oceania Heights homeowners are that they have been unable to obtain title/conveyancing documents to the properties they have bought; there are questions whether more than $880,000 in Stamp Tax they paid has been passed on to the Treasury; Mr Thompson failed to disclose he was also a beneficial owner of Oceania Heights when acting for the buyers in their purchases; the same lots have been sold to different buyers; and the hotel and other promised amenities have not been constructed.
Meanwhile, Tribune Business has obtained an e-mail sent yesterday by Barbara Wallace, an official with the US Embassy in Nassau, which said of the Oceania Heights meeting: “Consul Carina Canaan will be in attendance. If there are any changes, please notify us immediately.”
“We’ve got US government counsul showing up to this meeting now,” Mr Bain added. “The US government has sent this consul to the meeting, so it’s on the radar of the US.
“If I was in the Bahamas government, I’d say: ‘Why on earth don’t we deal with this?’ I don’t mean to be trite, but do the math, Bahamas government. It’s not going to go away, is what’s going to sink in on them.”
Mr Bain told Tribune Business that he and two other Oceania Heights homeowners, Dr Terry Swaine and Chris Fleming, had held conference calls with the new Canadian High Commissioner to the Bahamas, Robert Ready.
He added that Mr Ready was due in Nassau on February 7, 2013, to present his credentials, and would “raise this issue” with Prime Minister Perry Christie and other government officials.
Referring to his own situation, Mr Bain told Tribune Business: “The lot my wife and I bought in May 2005 [Lot 65] had already been sold to an American citizen, Dr Gleb Nedzel, back in 1999.
“The two conveyances for the same lot are sitting on the same lawyer’s desk. They’re both alive and well. The property is on the Real Property Tax list twice, once for Nedzel and once for Bain.
“You can’t have two people owning the same piece of property unbeknownst to each other. That’s ridiculous. It’s just so screwed up it’s unbelievable.”
Tribune Business has seen the separate real property tax bills sent to the Bains and Nedzels, both of which are for Lot 65.
That Lot was exchanged for another at Oceania Heights in a deal signed by Dr Nedzel, and arranged by Mr Obront. Tribune Business also has documents proving this.
Yet Mr Bain alleged that Lot 65 was, subsequently, not properly conveyed to him. Two options are available - Dr Nedzel’s heirs conveying the property to him and his wife or the developers, with the latter then conveying it to the Bains. Neither, he alleged, has happened to-date.
Telling Tribune Business that he was still “beseeching the Government of the Bahamas” to step in and resolve the situation, Mr Bain said the Christie administration could use the situation to its advantage if it did so, as it could blame all the problems on the FNM.
“Our group are not going to stop. We’re continuing to do what we have been doing aggressively to convince the Government to do the right thing,” Mr Bain told Tribune Business.
“The longer this government waits, the more likely the perception will be that it’s part and parcel of the problem.
“If they act properly, they can say the FNM have made a huge mess, we can see the problems, we are taking action and come out of this smelling like a rose.”