LAND O'LAKES — In this gated community where an unkempt lawn or an unapproved back door will get you slapped with a citation, the villa at 2839 Torrance Drive really stands out.
The roof is charred and has a hole in it. The garage is boarded up, damaged from a car fire more than two years ago. Neighbors are angry.
"You can't go out on your front porch with seeing it," said 29-year-old Rachel Hibbard, whose villa sits directly across the street. Every time she looks out the front window she's reminded of at least one reason her house won't sell.
"We had some showings cancel," said the wife and mother of two preschoolers, who took her home off the market. "They said they didn't like the neighborhood."
The 1,706 square-foot home was built in 2004 and bought for $171,500 by an investor named Paul E. Rosner, a 53-year-old Webster man who became an organ grinder after severe arthritis forced him to give up his job as a court reporter. He founded a company called Monkey Antics: Primates Helping Primates, according to state records.
Rosner rented out the home, which burned on Feb. 11, 2008, after the tenant's car caught fire. In addition to the roof, the flames damaged a common wall shared by a neighbor. The neighbor, Debra Champion, was forced to move out and has not been able to return. She declined to comment for the story. Her insurance company filed for an order to be allowed to make repairs, saying it can't reach anyone who will authorize it.
The fire caused $150,000 worth of damage, according to court papers. The garage door was boarded, and a large waste bin soon appeared. Then, neighbors said, everything came to a standstill. Residents got county code enforcement officers to remove the bin a few months later.
"It looks about like it did two years ago," said Ellie Schram, 47, who lives in a villa across the street. "It's an eyesore. I can just imagine what kind of rats and rodents and mold are in there. And when the wind stirs, you can still smell the smoke."
Efforts to reach Rosner were unsuccessful. He filed for bankruptcy protection three months after the fire. The mortgage company said in court documents that he stopped making payments on Dec. 1, 2007, and still owed about $119,000 on a $125,000 loan. In August 2008, there a motion was filed to abandon the property. A judge denied the request. The bankruptcy case was closed in October 2008. Meanwhile, he faces lawsuits from the Tanglewylde Homeowners Association, which lies in the Oakstead community. A contractor hired to clean up the damage says it's owed more than $6,000.
Residents say they can't understand why it's taken so long for the matter to get resolved. They fear their property values, already taking a beating from the recession, will plunge even more.
Officials with the homeowners association declined to speak with the St. Petersburg Times about the issue. After hearing about the situation, state Rep. Kevin Ambler filed a bill this year that would prevent owners of damaged homes from walking away with their insurance settlements, but it died in committee.
"I could see where it would be just as devastating here if we had a home that was two-thirds burnt and went several years because a person skipped off with insurance money and there was no one to come up with the funds to get it repaired," said William Parsons, a Seven Oaks resident and a founding member of the Pasco Alliance of Community Associations, an organization that advocates for homeowners associations.
"I don't know why somebody didn't at least put some plywood over the roof," said Freda Lowke, 62, who lives next to the damaged villa. She said she was drawn to the area six years ago because it was so neatly maintained and residents were friendly.
"It's sad to take a walk now," she said.
Researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Lisa Buie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4604.