Murano developer lied about occupancy, buyers claim

Oh, how people just couldn't wait to get into the Murano!

The shimmering 43-story Center City condominium tower attracted folks from far and wide as soon as it was first marketed in 2005.

The only problem? Thomas Properties Inc., the developer of the Murano, lied almost from the start to buyers, bankers and others about the actual number of condos that had been sold, according to a lawsuit filed in Common Pleas Court yesterday on behalf of 51 current condo owners.

The developer, real-estate agents and others routinely told prospective buyers that 70 percent of the units had been presold, creating the false impression that the condos were in high demand, according to the lawsuit, which was filed by attorneys Andrew Chirls and Lauren Cates, of Haines & Associates .

"The value of a unit . . . is higher if and when the developer has sold more units," the attorneys contend in the lawsuit.

When one buyer, Albert Hwa-Wei Tsai, closed on his condo in June 2009, only 38 percent of the 302-unit building had actually been sold, according to the lawsuit. That same month, Thomas Properties allowed 40 of the condos, situated at 21st and Market streets, to be auctioned.

Earlier this year, the Murano finally reached the long-discussed 70 percent sales figure, according to the lawsuit.

In addition to claims of inflated sales figures, some of the buyers suing Thomas Properties claim that the developer sold them on the idea that all of the condos would have floor-to-ceiling windows.

When, in some cases, that turned out to be false, the developer offered to move the buyers to condos with better views - and higher price tags, the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit is seeking damages in excess of $50,000.

Thomas Properties officials could not be reached for comment.