Thursday, February 22, 2018
News Roundup

Port Richey considers demolishing dilapidated mobile homes

PORT RICHEY — Jackie Eldridge knows what it's like to be homeless, and now he's facing that prospect again.

Eldridge lives in the Gulfland Mobile Home Park at U.S. 19 and Limit Drive, where the city has labeled dozens of units unsafe.

Inspectors fixed bright orange stickers on 39 units May 31 and ordered park owners Imogene and Sam Tindell to raze nine RVs that have been permanently — and illegally — anchored in the park. The ordinance gives the Tindells until June 30 to bring the 39 homes up to code before the city can file a demolition notice.

Eldridge, 59, a maintenance man at the park, said "he used to live in the woods" and doesn't know what he will do if he loses his home and job.

"At my age starting over will be hard to do," Eldridge said. "Where is everyone going to go? Is the city just going to put us all out on the street? There has to be a more effective way."

It's a sentiment that runs throughout the park where city officials say they have found open sewer lines, exposed electrical wiring, human and animal waste scattered around common areas, dead raccoons and cats, and some units without bathrooms. Even the laundry room in the complex has been tagged unsafe because of exposed electrical wiring, city officials said.

Records show police and fire officials have responded to 197 calls for service at the park from June 1, 2012, to June 1 of this year. Police consider it an area known for drug activity, though it's the living conditions, not the criminal element, that has the building department making demands for improvements, said City Manager Tom O'Neill.

"It's deplorable the conditions we found. Not only is it illegal, but it is morally wrong," O'Neill said.

Sam Tindell's attorney, Kenneth Foote, said the city failed to notify his client before tagging the units, which set off a panic in the park and brought rent collections to a standstill. Foote said the city instead should have started with a code enforcement citation to allow his client to remedy issues at the park.

"Residents were not given any notice. They put the stickers up and that was that," Foote said. "It doesn't sound like the United States to me, where we have due process."

Foote argued the city also has a legal problem on its hands because it's not enforcing the ordinance on other properties that are in worse shape than Gulfland.

"They are targeting my client for some reason,'' he said. "It's selective enforcement, and it's not legal."

O'Neill said city code enforcement did contact Tindell about the poor conditions in the park, but he did not address them. O'Neill said the city is not seeking to demolish and just wants to make the units habitable. The city is willing to work out a plan with the owners for making improvements, he said.

Foote said he will seek more time for his client to make repairs before considering legal action to halt demolition proceedings.

"I'm not saying everything is perfect in the park,'' Foote said. "But there should be some kind of notice and time to fix the problems before you just come in and bulldoze someone's private property."

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