TEMPLE TERRACE — Under a magnificent canopy of moss-draped oaks, the homes along Riverhills Drive are well maintained and meticulously landscaped. Except for one.
"CONDEMNED'' says the sign at a house with a yard gone to weed and a garage door stained brown with mold. "This building has been deemed to be unsafe, unfit, unsanitary for human occupation.''
Unfit, certainly. But still occupied.
For four years, Thomas Urbanczyk has been living in his 2,700-square-foot home with no water, no power, no working toilet. People who have peeked inside say a mattress seems to be the only furniture. Even the kitchen cabinets and faucets are gone.
"He's basically squatting there,'' says neighbor William Congelio.
Since Sept. 11, when city officials condemned the house, Urbanczyk has defied demands to either bring it up to code or move out. Now the city is suing him, seeking an injunction to force him to comply.
"We've got a property that doesn't have utilities, and from what we understand the roof is deteriorated,'' city attorney Mark Connolly said Thursday. "The last time anybody from city was nearby the front door when speaking to Mr. Urbanczyk, they could clearly smell mold inside the place. The city building official and fire chief are concerned about having somebody live in a structure that doesn't have basic services.''
When a reporter phoned him this week, the 40-year-old Urbanczyk said he didn't have time to talk. He did not respond to subsequent calls or answer a knock on the door.
In September, though, he appealed the city's condemnation order. He said then that he could not afford to address the problems because his accounts had been frozen by the IRS, which has $2.5 million in liens against him for not paying taxes in 2006 and 2007.
How Urbanczyk ran up such a huge tax bill in just two years is unclear. He told some neighbors that he used to trade stocks and that the IRS wrongly claims he made big profits on which he owes capital gains taxes. He once held a Florida real estate license but that expired in 2007. Two companies with which he was affiliated never seem to have been very active and are long defunct.
All that the neighbors know for certain is that his house is a blight on their beautiful street.
"Our desire is not to take the property from the guy, it's simply to get it up to the minimum standards in the neighborhood,'' said Congelio, a certified financial planner. "He's in total defiance and refused to do it.''
Like others, Congelio and his wife, Nancy, were attracted to the area near the Hillsborough River because of its spacious homes and lovely trees. When they paid $335,000 for their house three years ago they assumed that the run-down place next door was vacant and for sale. A sign outside (still there, but faded) said, "Lease option to buy.''
"Then, probably a few months after we moved in, we noticed he'd go in in the afternoon and then he'd be in there all night, we supposed, because he'd come out in the morning,'' Congelio said. "We actually approached him after several months and asked if he was living there and he said, 'No, I just come by to get my mail.' ''
Still, they saw him walking up and down the street carrying plastic bags — perhaps to a trash bin, they speculated. Sometime he would be in tennis attire carrying a racket. Despite his home's squalor, Urbanczyk always looked clean.
He could also be friendly. Nancy Congelio said he once brought her some broccoli when he heard she had been ill.
Records show that Urbanczyk purchased the four-bedroom, three-bath house in 2006 for $250,000. In 2010, the power was shut off. In 2012, the city stopped water and sewage services because the bill had not been paid. Bank of America at one point began foreclosing on Urbanczyk's $200,000 mortgage, but later dismissed the case.
As the house became increasingly decrepit, the back yard turned into a jungle and vines crept over the roof. Code violations piled up, resulting in $169,000 in fines. Congelio offered to help Urbanczyk clean up but was rebuffed. The city even put a trash bin in front for several weeks, but nothing went in it.
"As the city began to put more pressure on him, we had over 100 people sign a petition,'' Congelio said. "I collected that in three or four hours sitting in front of my house. All of a sudden he changed his story to 'No, I'm not living there, to 'This is my homestead.' ''
After the city declared the property unfit for occupation in September, Urbanczyk admitted to officials that he was living there with no water or electricity. But he did not show up for a hearing in November nor did he comply with a final order in December.
The city filed suit this month. One of Urbanczyk's neighbors, Gerald Leonard, blasts it for not moving faster.
"In any other property in this town, if a blade of grass is bent over by a quarter of an inch, the code people will knock on your door,'' he says. "The city for some reason was recalcitrant or incompetent or all of the above.''
While Leonard finds Urbanczyk "off the wall,'' Congelio thinks he is "very bright and ultimately shrewd,'' opting to stay where he is knowing that he could not sell the house without satisfying the huge IRS liens.
"I feel like he realizes that any money that he puts into the house to improve it is immediately going to be taken away if sold so there is not motivation to improve it. So he basically flouts all authority and drags down all of our property values.''
Susan Taylor Martin can be contacted at email@example.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate