Dilapidated mobile home lot catches Tampa City Council's eye

11/27/12 Janelle Irwin
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A cluster of mobile homes in Southeast Seminole Heights is falling apart and no one has done anything about it. Until now. Pete Johnson, a civilian code enforcement guru, told Tampa City Council members earlier this month that the homes violated multiple city codes.

“There is sewage leak. There is electrical components close to water. This is the most grotesque living conditions I have ever seen and abuse of elderly people by this property owner. I cannot understand why code has not gone in and considered a health and safety issue and closed this property down.”

WMNF spoke to Johnson at his home the following week.

“[They’re] totally unfit for human habitation, sewage leaking, windows broken, no heat, refrigerators put over holes in the walls, people putting towels down to keep the rats out.”

Johnson’s pleas to city council were heard. After the meeting council member Frank Reddick went to the property. He saw the broken windows, the warped walls and the yards littered with garbage and old fencing. Reddick said there were some elderly residents, but there were also families with small children living there.

“And I’m surprised that someone’s been living there for that long period of time and this has not been reported. It’s just deplorable.”

So Reddick is reporting it for them.

“I have requested that code enforcement report back to the council December 6th about the condition of that facility and I’m going to ask them to prepare some type of injunction to condemn the property.”

The property has come into the city’s code enforcement purview plenty of times before. According to code enforcement records more than 50 violations have been filed since 1990. Johnson, the concerned citizen who brought the issue up with Tampa officials, agrees that the property should be condemned.

“But what do you do about the six or eight elderly people that are living there? Where do you put them? This is something that the city has to come up with a program of relocating these people. It’s the city’s fault for not enforcing the codes over the last 20 years and now if they close down the property what happens? The people get put out on the street.”

At least one of the residents, an elderly man who asked not to be recorded, doesn’t want to go anywhere. Despite the scattered rubbish and disrepair of many of the mobile structures on the property including his own, he said he is just glad to have a roof over his head. But Johnson suspects the residents are keeping tight lips because they are afraid.

“They refuse to go on camera; many of them refuse to give their first or last name because they’re in fear that the management will throw them out. He has evicted several people without even going through court proceedings. I have heard that he comes there with a gun to collect rent and if your rent is not paid he tells you to leave immediately.”

According to information on the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser’s office, the lot and its structures are owned by a company called GreenPark Residencies. That company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this year. If those proceedings go through, the city may have little recourse in collecting fees from owners due to code violations. Regardless, Tampa City Council’s Reddick has some looming questions.

“Why has code enforcement not taken a stronger position or even put this facility on the map and I think that code enforcement will have to answer some questions, not only from me, probably from other members of the council once this issue comes before us on the 6th and we’re going to try to get to the bottom of it. If we have to condemn the property than we have to condemn it.”

Tampa Code Enforcement did not respond to requests for comment on the property.

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