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Code raid discovers squalid housing

Published Feb. 24, 2006

By the end of the day, eight homes were declared unfit to live in.

But even the livable mobile homes in Edgewood Park turned up with these problems: raw sewage on the ground, exposed wiring, holes in ceilings and walls and not a single working smoke detector in any of the 36 mobile homes and RVs.

"They're in violation of the standards for basic equipment. Some are immediate electrical hazards. Some of them (have) no plumbing," said city building official Bill Burgess. "There's a little bit of everything."

Burgess was part of a multiagency crackdown Thursday that included Zephyrhills Police and Fire departments, the county Health Department, utility companies and others. The findings could yield a host of code enforcement charges and thousands of dollars in fines.

"We're just going to make them more honest out here," code inspector Gene Brown said.

The park, where homes date to the 1970s, overlooks Zephyr Park on C Avenue. Stuck in the dirt path is a bright yellow sign that reads "Slow - Children Playing."

Michelle Boots shares a three-bedroom mobile home with her aunt and their five children. One room is unusable because the carpet is still soaked from when the kitchen sink flooded a month ago.

"He came here and got the rent," Boots, 24, said of the landlord. "He never came back."

The park is owned by Pasco Rentals Inc., an Orlando corporation headed by William Oleyar. He could not be reached Thursday. Officials said they plan to meet with him today.

Boots said she and her aunt pay $625 a month to live in the mobile home, which has no electricity in the living room because of a leak in the ceiling.

They withheld the rent one month to get the sopping carpet removed and replaced. The landlord's response: cutting off the power.

Charlie Young, who lives with his girlfriend in a one-bedroom, pays $150 a week.

Young, 28, said he found holes in the windows, a banged-up door and an overwhelming stench of mold when he moved in two months ago. A handyman, he fixed many of the problems himself.

Still, outside on the small patio Thursday, Young pointed to wires running out of an adjacent home and across the ground. Running water for that home is supplied by a hose, and the sewer pipe sits above the ground.

Code violations all, Burgess said.

The eight mobile homes he condemned Thursday were unoccupied. The others, despite numerous problems, presented no immediate danger to the residents.

"We don't like to put people out on the street," he said.

Zephyrhills police Capt. David Shears said conditions at the park came to light in the past year because of frequent 911 calls there. In the past 12 months, Shears said there were more than 200 complaints ranging from shootings to domestic disturbances to crack cocaine and methamphetamine violations.

"Marijuana, we're not even considering it a nuisance anymore because we deal with it so much," said Sgt. Josh O'Nolan.

Officers who responded to the calls noticed the living conditions, which led to Thursday's raid.

City Fire Marshal Kerry Barnett went door to door handing out smoke detectors and left extras for people who weren't home. He said only two of the homes had detectors, and those had no batteries.

But beyond that, Barnett found windows that had been screwed shut, doors that wouldn't open and propane tanks sitting stacked in yards.

"What we've been told by the occupants is they (the landlords) are not fixing anything," Barnett said. "You can go inside these homes and see that nothing's been fixed."

Inspectors with the Pasco County Health Department visited the park earlier this month and found minor problems such as trash on the ground. But when they returned Thursday, conditions were worse.

Environmental administrator Bill Angulo said the recent cold snap had resulted in broken pipes, leaving raw sewage under some homes.

"If you've got sewage on the ground, that means you've got a sanitary nuisance that needs to be fixed real quick," Angulo said.

"They're not going to be able to solve everything within 24 hours, but we expect some movement."