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Family still lacks water after ruling

Published Oct. 18, 2005

A federal judge declined Thursday to order the city to reconnect water service to an indigent family that has been without water for two weeks. Now the family's attorneys will ask a Pinellas County Court judge to order the family's landlord to pay the deposit required by the city before it will turn the water on.

Andrea James and four of her children, 4 to 13, continue to live at 700 Seventh St. N without running water. She was filling bottles at a friend's place a block and a half away and carrying them home, said Pierce Kelley Jr., managing lawyer for Gulfcoast Legal Services.

"She's without water, and last night, she said, her stove broke down, so she wasn't able to cook," Kelley said. "Things aren't getting any better. They're getting worse."

Mrs. James and four of her eight children moved into the downstairs apartment Oct. 2 after she agreed to pay $350 a month rent. That was to include water service, her attorneys said. Four other children live with relatives.

The former owner of the building told the city that no one lived there and asked the city to disconnect water service Oct. 8. The water account still was in the previous owner's name because Bobbie Jo Jordan, who purchased the building in early August, never changed the account to her name or paid a $212.50 deposit for water service, city officials said.

The city resumed water service for five days on condition that Mrs. James, who supports her family with $589 a month in Aid to Families with Dependent Children and $590 in food stamps, either come up with the deposit or persuade Jordan to do so. Mrs. James could do neither, and the water was shut off again Monday.

Gulfcoast Legal asked a U.S. District Court judge in Tampa to intervene, saying the city had denied Mrs. James due process by turning off the water without notice. But Judge Elizabeth A. Kovachevich ruled that the city gave her notice when it temporarily turned the water back on.

Gulfcoast now is asking a county judge to order landlord Jordan to have the water turned on. Kelley said he also will ask Assistant City Attorney Suzanne Ennis to have the water reconnected without a deposit.

Ennis could not be reached for comment. Jordan did not respond to a message left at Silor Optical, where she works.

Mrs. James "is totally at the mercy of the landlord and the city," Kelley said.

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