A testy feud over a rent increase has festered for three months behind the gates of the Kings Manor Estates mobile home park, putting residents at odds with the park owner.
Now residents say they have reached an impasse and cannot continue negotiations without a mediator.
A board member for the Kings Manor Tenants Association this week filed complaints with two state agencies on behalf of the 345 homes, and has requested a third party intervene.
Since the dispute began in May, residents have said owner Paul Anderson has called them "trash," told them to leave if they didn't like his rules and threatened to evict those residents who failed to comply with them.
Tenants own the mobile homes but rent the lots.
"Someone has to do something to help us," wrote Linda Miller, the association's vice president, in a July 24 letter to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation and to Attorney General Bob Butterworth's office.
"We are at our wits' end (on) where to turn for assistance," she wrote.
An attorney for the owner says that he is just enforcing the rules and that they have trumped up phony accusations to elude paying more. He said Anderson's rules have nothing to do with the rent dispute.
Among those receiving violation notices were Judith Rusk and Andrea Rodriguez, both for having portable air conditioners considered unsightly. After both women provided doctor's notes saying they needed them for health reasons, he threatened them with eviction.
Since then, both have filed complaints with the Pinellas County Office of Human Rights. Investigator Oliver Melvin could not comment on those complaints or on a third one filed against Anderson, but he said all three allegations regard fair housing complaints that his office "would definitely look into."
David Sockol, the attorney for the park owner, said that the request for mediation is unfounded and untimely, and that they have neglected the state's procedure for seeking a third party.
As for the civil rights violations, Sockol said Anderson is merely enforcing the rules and would gladly accommodate anyone with a disability. But he said no one has brought proof beyond a note from a doctor saying they need an air conditioner.
Sockol said: "A few individuals are mad, and they want to stir up trouble; and this is just one way to do it. And it's working."
The dispute began in May when Anderson, who bought the park in April 2001, announced plans to raise rents in August. Tenants rent the lots at rates starting at about $364.
Tenants association members said Anderson wants to raise some rates by $13 a month, while others could go up as much as $27.50. Association board members said they are concerned that many affected by the higher increase will be elderly residents on fixed incomes. Sockol said the rent increases are fair.
Miller said she will advise tenants to pay the increase but to note on each check that the rent is being disputed. Should they prevail in mediation or through a civil lawsuit, they can reclaim the disputed amount.
_ Michael Sandler can be reached at 445-4174 or sandlersptimes.com.