LARGO — Renters can be in a difficult situation when their landlord doesn't pay the water and sewer bill at a mobile home park, as nine families found out this week at No Go Largo Village.
In more than a few parks, the weekly or monthly rent also covers those utilities.
But there are a few things potential renters can do to protect themselves, according to St. Petersburg and Pinellas County officials.
Renters can call the community's water and sewer companies and inquire about payment history, said Tom De Yampert, St. Petersburg's manager of Housing and Community Development.
"You can ask questions like, 'Is it paid now and what has the payment structure been over the last 12 months?' " said De Yampert, who also noted that a few years ago Pinellas County had the highest population of mobile homes in the state.
"It's all public information. I tell anybody to check it out because knowledge is power."
Wednesday, 18 adults and 16 children were removed from No Go Largo Village on Clearwater Largo Road.
The park's owner, Key Largo Communities Corp., had not paid the utility bill since July 25, according to Pinellas County Utilities.
The water was disconnected Sept. 30. The city didn't become aware of the situation until this week and deemed the park unlivable, leaving the residents homeless.
All nine families were put in other housing Thursday with the help of the city, local business and charitable organizations and residents. Neither Andrea Trani, president of Key Largo Communities, nor her partner, Helene Provenzano, could be reached for comment.
It's illegal for a landlord not to provide water to a community, said Ken Burke, the county's clerk of court. But the remedy is civil. A person would have to file a claim with the clerk's office in an effort to recoup damages.
Like De Yampert, Burke has a suggestion for people looking to rent in a mobile home park.
He said it's always a good idea to check with the clerk's office Web site to see if a potential landlord has been sued a number of times.
"And landlords can do the same thing," Burke said. "They can check our Web site and see if the renter has had any evictions. It works both ways."
In this week's crisis at No Go Largo Village, Largo officials moved as quickly as they could to help the displaced families. With everyone housed, now they are looking at strategies they can implement when a similar housing crisis occurs, something that could happen sooner rather than later.
Key Largo Communities also is nearly $6,000 behind on the water bill at Bragington Oaks, a neighboring mobile home park.
Key Largo Communities initially agreed to pay $2,500 by Thursday but didn't. Friday, the company reached another agreement with Pinellas County Utilities to pay $2,528 by Tuesday and the remaining $3,531.26 by the end of October. There are six occupied units at Bragington Oaks.
Whether Bragington Oaks is next or not, Largo officials realize the situation is at least partly a sign of the times.
"We have seen the economy and what's going on in housing, and unfortunately, I don't think this is going to be the last time," said Lindsay Dicus, Largo's housing finance specialist. "I don't want this to be blamed on just the housing market, though.
"The owner of the property must take a lot of the responsibility of what happened to these families."
Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this story. Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or firstname.lastname@example.org.