ST. PETERSBURG — Mike Agosta enlisted in the Army and learned he would ship out 19 days later. He expected his apartment complex would let him go without penalty, considering he was ending the lease to serve his country.
He was wrong.
Florida law allows military personnel to break their leases if they show documentation and give 30 days' notice. His apartment complex, Camden Lakes, said it wouldn't accept his request to end the lease.
"I was really dumbfounded," Agosta said from his father's home in South Florida, where he's visiting before shipping out to Fort Jackson, S.C., on Tuesday.
The company that owns the complex at 11150 Fourth St. N said it needed his official orders, which he says he won't receive until the first day of boot camp. Agosta said he showed his signed Army contract, but the company wouldn't accept it.
It's unclear what penalties Agosta might face for breaking his lease. Ed Malone, regional vice president for Camden, wouldn't discuss Agosta's case, but he said the company's leases follow state and federal laws dealing with military enlistees.
He said the company has no discretion in allowing some people out of their leases because that would be unfair to other tenants.
Not so, says a Palm Harbor lawyer who took up Agosta's case pro bono.
Upset by Agosta's story, Justin Zinzow filed a lawsuit for him Tuesday. He said the whole agreement should be thrown out because the lease violates a Florida law allowing military enlistees special privileges. He said fair housing laws — which prohibit race, sex and other types of discrimination — don't bar Camden from using its discretion.
Agosta could give notice later and accept about a month's extra rent, but he said he felt like the complex was insulting him by doubting that he was enlisting. He also doesn't want other recruits to face the same hassles.
"Good for him. He's truly a patriotic American," Zinzow said.
Agosta grew up in South Florida but moved to the Tampa area with a DJ business so he could travel the state more easily. He worked for Verizon as a cable splicer for a few years. Recently unemployed, he decided to join the Army.
Sgt. 1st Class James Butler, an Army recruiter, said Agosta's experience was unusual.
"Normally, most apartment complexes or homes are pretty lenient on it," Butler said. "This is the first time in seven years since I've been recruiting that I've had an issue."