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County forecloses on rent property

After years of health and building code violations at a group of rental properties on Mobley Road, the county on Monday filed a foreclosure suit against the owner for failing to pay fines that now amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars. "It's the last step we can take with somebody who doesn't comply," said Assistant County Attorney Kenneth Warnstadt, who filed the civil suit in Hernando Circuit Court.

The owner, Saul Paul Reese Jr., was cited in February 1989 for six health department violations including inadequate and open-air septic tanks and was fined $250 per day for each violation.

The fines began accruing March 7, 1989, and are now estimated by Warnstadt at $600,000 to $700,000.

Saul Paul Reese III said he did not think his father knew the county intended to foreclose. Reese Jr. was at work and could not be reached for comment.

Warnstadt said that if the county wins its case, "the property will be sold on the courthouse steps just as in any foreclosure action." Warnstadt said the county would be the most likely purchaser of the property if the foreclosure went through.

"If we foreclose, we can do with it what we see fit," said Ed Pensyl, the county's chief code enforcement officer.

"I would say we would probably scrape it off with a bulldozer and start from scratch. I would say the county would not run a slum property like that."

County health officials visiting the 5- to 7-acre area near the corner of Wiscon Road last year described conditions there as "deplorable."

The property, jointly owned with Reese's brother David, includes several homes and trailers. As many as 20 people, including the Reese brothers and their families, have lived in the area, but Reese's son said only about four units were now rented.

Pensyl said Reese had complied with a couple of previous code violations for junk cars, and trash and debris on the property, but the health department violations remained.

In August the Department of Environmental Regulation (DER) filed a lawsuit against Reese for operating an unsafe water supply system, and ordered him to make several repairs and buy a chlorinator. DER environmental specialist Gerald Foster said Reese provided proof of purchase on a chlorinator down payment earlier this month.

"It's been an ongoing case for a while," he said.

The county's lawsuit names 16 defendants, including Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative, which has a $1,036 judgment against Reese, and 11 owners of tax certificates for the property. Also listed as defendants are heirs to the family owned property.

"We need to foreclose against everybody who may assert an interest in the property," Warnstadt said, adding that serving all the defendants will be a long, time-consuming process.

"It's a mess. There are unnamed heirs, unknown heirs ... The complaint is 12 pages long; there are 70 pages including all the exhibits," he said.