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Beaches landlord tussles with city

The eviction scare passed months ago, but the threat of foreclosure still looms for Suzanne Ferry, and she's still fighting.

In January, Ferry's Tropical Shores apartments, a collection of rent-by-the-week rooms near the St. Pete Beach waterfront, gained attention as the first buildings condemned by the city in 25 years.

Today, she isn't the only one. Her condemnation signaled a new era of code enforcement in St. Pete Beach. This year, the city condemned five buildings _ including three Belle Vista homes and a commercial building on Gulf Boulevard formerly leased to Jeff's Desserts.

The city said Ferry's buildings were primed for a fire, with electrical wiring rigged to power more than the overworked system could handle. She accused the city of singling her out for enforcement because her clientele didn't fit the city's upscale image of itself.

"The city wants to tear me down and redevelop," Ferry said.

Eleven months ago, 30 families hung in the balance as Ferry tried to make repairs in time to avoid evicting her clients. She finished most of the life-threatening repairs in time, forcing her to relocate just a couple of tenants.

But the city says she didn't meet its deadline on all the repairs, resulting in fines of $18,200. Ferry spent most of 2000 fighting those fines, while St. Pete Beach threatened to begin foreclosure proceedings if she didn't pay.

This month the city's special master, who oversees code enforcement matters, reduced the fines to $4,950.

But Mike Knotek, the city's community services director, said he still expects Ferry to fight the fines, perhaps in court. The city might still foreclose if Ferry doesn't pay, Knotek said.

Meanwhile, with little maintenance at the apartments during the past 20 years, Knotek suspects the buildings have crept back into non-compliance. Yet after a year of dealing with the feisty apartment owner, he's not sure when he'll return for another inspection.

"I don't want her to think we're picking on her," Knotek said, "but we'll be back."