OLDSMAR — Greig McKinley and Shayle Popovich have lived in a hotel since April 18, the day before a crew started cleaning mold in their Oldsmar condominium.
For three months, standing water from an abandoned unit seeped into theirs.
It ruined their carpet. It damaged their furniture. It rotted their cabinets. It agitated their sinuses.
Trips to the doctor, missed work days and other expenses have, according to their estimates, cost them $22,000. They want Oldsmar to give them some of that back.
"The city is responsible," said Popovich, 47. "They turned on the water (in the abandoned condo) when they put the meter in."
The Florida League of Cities, Oldsmar's insurance carrier, acknowledges that the city replaced the water meter at 2036 Sheffield Court.
But a league official says squatters — not Oldsmar — are to blame. The valve was in the off position when the city replaced the meter, claims adjuster Debra Stromberg wrote in a letter to the men.
And, according to a Pinellas County Sheriff's Office report from Jan. 14, deputies found the front door of the abandoned home unlocked and interviewed neighbors who saw at least a couple of people traipse in and out of the condo.
"If faucets were left on or manually turned on," Stromberg wrote, "this was done by the discovered 'squatters' that were found to have been inside the empty unit that was in foreclosure."
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The men's nightmare, as Popovich calls it, began about 6:30 p.m. Jan. 13.
He walked into his bedroom, put his gym bag on his bed and stepped in an inch of water. Popovich searched for the source.
He checked his bathroom. It was dry.
He went outside. He heard a hissing sound.
Popovich thought if he shut off the valve connected to his home, the noise would subside. It did not.
"I heard water running into the unit next door," Popovich said. "You could hear it running through the copper pipe."
Back in his condo, Popovich inspected other parts of the house, McKinley's room among them.
"I stepped on Greig's rug," he said, "and squish."
Water inside McKinley's room was between 2 1/2 and 3 inches deep. There was some in the living room, too.
He summoned McKinley, 46, home. Together, they scooped up all of their belongings off the floor and threw them on top of beds, sofas, tables.
They contacted their insurance provider, who dispatched a restoration company to their home. The company set up industrial-sized humidifiers in the home to suck out as much water as possible.
Popovich fired off e-mails to the city, his homeowner association, the county Health Department — anyone who would listen.
"We didn't know what we were up against," he said.
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On Jan. 12, the day before Popovich discovered the water in his condo, Oldsmar replaced the water meter in the foreclosed property, said Marnie Burns, the assistant city manager.
Coincidence? The city won't say.
"Here's our viewpoint," Burns said. "We pay premiums to our insurance carrier and part of that is for them to investigate. We view it as their decision as to how a claim is settled."
McKinley and Popovich don't understand why Oldsmar changed out the meter. The unit had been abandoned since May 2009. And as late as October, they say, the city placed a lien against 2036 Sheffield Court for unpaid water bills. City records corroborate that.
Burns said it doesn't matter that a lien was on the property; the meter needed replacing.
She said it was old and that there was a minor leak in the valve.
"It had 818,000 gallons," Burns said. "Anything above 800,000 is not as effective so their instructions are to replace the meter. It's kind of a normal thing we do, but it's on a case-by-case basis as things come to our attention, usually by the meter reader."
McKinley's bedroom and Popovich's bedroom both share a wall with the abandoned unit.
"This is where all that water sat until it actually dried out," Popovich said.
• • •
The water trickled into his home until March, and so did responses to all of those e-mails he sent back in January and February, Popovich said.
Al Braithwaite, the city's finance administrator, served as the liaison between the city and Popovich.
"Our insurance carrier, the Florida League of Cities, has established a file and has assigned an adjuster to investigate your situation," he wrote in a March 9 e-mail that Popovich supplied the St. Petersburg Times. "You should be contacted within a couple of days from one of the adjusters in order to start our investigation."
Last week, Popovich and McKinley received the league's verdict.
"A City, Town or Municipality must have prior notice of a possible hazard and be given the opportunity to inspect, correct, repair, replace or remove the possible hazard," Stromberg wrote in the letter to the men. "Without this opportunity, a City, Town or Municipality cannot be held liable or responsible for possible damages incurred.
"Based on the foregoing, we find no negligence on the City of Oldsmar and therefore are denying your claim."
The men say they are disappointed with the city's response and are considering legal remedies.
"It's really caused us a lot of damage, a lot of grief, a lot of time off from work, health issues," Popovich said.
Meanwhile, he and McKinley face another week, maybe two, in the Residence Inn on Tampa Road. That's how long it will take for workers to clean their condo.
The company that holds the mortgage on the foreclosed home is covering the cost of the cleanup. Homeowners insurance is paying for their hotel stay.
"As nice as this place is," Popovich said, "it's not home. You just aren't comfortable."
Rodney Thrash can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4167.