Andrea James and four of her children have lived in her apartment for nearly two weeks without water because her landlord never paid a water deposit to the city of St. Petersburg. The water still is off at Mrs. James' apartment. On Wednesday, Gulfcoast Legal Services, which represents indigent clients, took Mrs. James's case to federal court.
"Our client did nothing to cause the problem," said Pierce Kelley Jr., managing lawyer with Gulfcoast Legal Services. "She doesn't owe the city any money."
The suit asks for more than $10,000 damages each from the current landlord, Bobbie Jo Jordan, and former owner Chun-Liang Chen.
It also asks a judge to force the city to turn the water on and leave it on. The suit says the city's action was unconstitutional because the city did not provide Mrs. James with due process to protest the city's action.
Jordan, who could not be located, purchased the two-apartment building at 700 Seventh St. N from Chen on Aug. 3, according to the suit. Sometime in early October, Chen told the city to turn off water service to the building on Oct. 8, saying that no one lived there.
Mrs. James, who had been living in a shelter for three months, moved in Oct. 2 after agreeing to pay $350 a month to Jordan for rent, including water service. Four of her children, ages 4 through 13, live with her. Four others live with relatives, her attorneys said.
Mrs. James and a child were at home when a city employee turned off the water Oct. 8, the suit says.
Mrs. James never complained to the city, Assistant City Attorney Suzanne Ennis said Wednesday. But Gulfcoast protested on her behalf, and the city turned on the water last Thursday. Officials said they would give Mrs. James until Monday to come up with the $212.50 deposit or find her landlord and force the landlord to pay. The water went off again Monday when Mrs. James, whose family lives on Aid to Families with Dependent Children, could do neither.
The suit says Chen is liable because he did not verify occupancy when he ordered the water shut off. Mrs. Jordan is at fault for not providing water to her tenant, the suit says.
The suit says the city is required by law to have a written policy giving notice for termination of water to tenants and allowing tenants to protest the action.
Neither Jordan nor Chen could be reached for comment.
Ennis said city employees verified that no water was being used at the building shortly before they shut the service off. Records also show that Jordan never applied to have water service in the building in her name.