Column: Sharing a utility bill is legal, if not equitable

Q: In October, the park owners at the mobile home community where I live informed the residents that they were separating utilities (water, sewer and trash) from our monthly lot rents. We would all receive a monthly bill for said services and a reduction in lot rent.

The owners have come up with a formula of dividing the park's monthly utilities equally among the 278 mobile homes. They think this is the fairest way of settling the bill. As compensation, our lot rents would be decreased by $58.

Most of the residents signed a petition objecting to this method as being unfair, unjust and discriminatory and sent it to the local and corporate management offices.

We've had no response.

How can this be fair when everyone's usage is different? Some homes have automatic sprinklers, dishwashers and clothes washers and dryers. Some people live alone; some are only here part of the year.

I understand other parks owned by this management company have the same complaint.

Peter Moore

A: I can help you understand why the management company is within its rights to make these changes.

Mobile home parks fall under the governance of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation's Division of Land Sales, Condominiums and Mobile Homes. Regulation is based on F.S. 723, which sets the rules for how parks can be run and defines procedures that protect the rights of the owners and tenants.

Your park owners haven't violated the law. DBPR deputy press secretary Sam Farkas explained that the owners sent a notice to the state that it wanted to make a change to the park prospectus and lease agreements in September 2007. The division approved the changes Jan. 1. A key point in this decision, he said, is that your lot rents will be reduced by $58 to offset any increase you might suffer because of the policy.

While residents may feel the policy is inequitable, it is not illegal.

How to test cat food

Q: I found a worm in a can of cat food. Can I have it analyzed to find out if the food is tainted?

Theodore Chapman

A: I contacted the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, which oversees the quality of animal feed, supplements and medicines. CVM was instrumental in the huge pet food recall that took place last year.

FDA spokeswoman Siobhan DeLancey said you can contact the Florida district complaint coordinator online at fda.gov/opacom/backgrounders/

complain.html or by phone toll-free at 1-866-337-6272.

"The FDA does not typically collect and sample product unless it is part of an investigation or is a product of particular interest," DeLancey said. Apparently, your worm was not.

However, it may be to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, says spokesman Terry McElroy.

Its Division of Food Safety is responsible for assuring that food on store shelves, including pet food, is safe for the public. In addition to issuing permits to and inspecting food establishments and inspecting food products, it performs specialized analyses on food products sold or produced in the state.

McElroy said the division would take a complaint and may send an inspector to collect a sample of the cat food. Once analysis has been performed and results evaluated, it would contact the manufacturer if warranted.

Call the Food Safety Division at (850) 245-5520.

This cruise stunk

Q: In December 2007, my husband and I took a cruise with about 80 other people from our development on Costa Cruise's ship, Costa Fortuna. We sailed out of Fort Lauderdale.

Upon arrival in our stateroom, the room smelled of stale cigar smoke, even though we were on a nonsmoking floor. We mentioned it to the steward, who sprayed the room with something to freshen it up, but it didn't help.

The reason it didn't help is that our air conditioning wasn't working for the entire cruise.

We reported it continuously. Technicians would come to the room, tell us the fan was broken and leave, never to return.

We asked to be moved to another room, but it was impossible since the cruise was completely booked.

The heat was so bad that we had difficulty sleeping. It was cooler in the hallway.

I have written to Costa Cruise Lines because I believe we should be compensated. Air conditioning is not a luxury on a cruise ship, it's a necessity.

We haven't received a response, not even an apology.

Carolyn Brusky

A. Costa Cruise's guest relations representative Sharon Farrington-Smith was quick to relay the company's apology for your experience.

Her letter to you, written a month after your first correspondence to the cruise line, was forwarded to Action by Dana Dominici, director of public relations.

Along with the apology, it has offered you a future cruise credit of $243, which is 20 percent of your cruise fare, minus government fees.

Restrictions apply, so read the terms and conditions on your credit coupon carefully to make sure you understand them.

Action solves problems and gets answers for you. Write Times Action, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or call, (727) 893-8171, or, outside of Pinellas, toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 8171, to leave a recorded request. Complaints can only be accepted by mail. Send only photocopies of personal documents. Names of letter writers will not be omitted except in unusual circumstances. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

Column: Sharing a utility bill is legal, if not equitable 03/30/08 [Last modified: Sunday, March 30, 2008 6:01am]

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