ST. PETERSBURG — In a neighborhood lined with canals, manicured lawns and homes that cost up to $400,000 sits an abandoned house that has served as a teenage hangout.
The overgrown lawn and broken windows at 1457 40th Ave. NE were bad enough, but when cops were called to chase away three teenagers hidden inside, neighbor Julie Johnson's frustration hit a new level.
"It makes me feel unsafe," she said recently. "We live in a nice neighborhood with tailored yards. The neighbors are friendly with each other. To know that something like this is going on is scary."
A code enforcement officer called the police after seeing teens inside the long-abandoned house. Before the police arrived, three kids ran out the back.
The foreclosure crisis literally left the door open to the homeless and teens to trespass on empty homes, said the city's director of codes compliance, Gary Bush. It takes a while for the city to stop trespassers from sneaking into a vacant house.
The codes department notifies the owner, whether a bank or individual, that the house needs to be better secured and then waits for a response. If after about two weeks there is no word, the city can send someone out to make the house harder to enter.
Johnson and a neighbor didn't wait that long. After all the commotion, she and the neighbor decided to investigate the house near Shore Acres that has sat empty for about three years.
"Somebody was living in the living room. There was a large pipe that was hanging from one corner to the other, and it had rolls and rolls of toilet paper hanging on it like they were making a screen," said the 42-year-old mother of two. "The air conditioning was on. It was 68 degrees, which is cooler than my house."
There were also more than 20 open gallons of paint and several hair dryers lying around, she said.
A few clicks on the Internet and talks with a neighbor who works in drug enforcement led Johnson to think that someone was heating the paint with a hair dryer to get high.
"Nice," Johnson said.
She saw lighters everywhere, burned spots on the carpet and paint splashes on the walls, which had several big holes, as if they'd been kicked or hit with something.
After seeing the eerie scene inside the 2,000-square-foot home, Johnson and her neighbor boarded up a broken window. Johnson mowed the front yard, and then several neighbors chipped in to pay a lawn service to mow the back and clean up the rest of the landscaping.
Heather Odell, who with her husband, Jerome, owns the house, said the situation is out of her control. They are in the midst of a divorce and he is in charge of the house.
"I'm really sorry to hear this has affected the neighbors there. They were really wonderful," said Odell, who has lived in Citrus County for several years. "I had no idea it was in this condition."
Odell said she gave the keys to the house to her husband in August 2012. She would like to sell the property, but the divorce is slowing the process.
Jerome Odell could not be reached for comment. Though the house has been neglected physically, it is up to date on property taxes. Property records show that the Odells bought the house in 1998 for $98,000. The Pinellas County property appraiser's website shows it has a market value of $133,000.
Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8785.