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    Photos illustrate apartment woes

    Hillsborough's code board gets a closeup look at problems uncovered in 6 housing complexes.

    By KATHRYN WEXLER, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published May 18, 2002


    Clarification
    In a series of articles published in the St. Petersburg Times, certain apartment complexes, including Amberwood Apartments, were identified as being owned by Steven S. Green, personally. However, these properties are or were owned solely by corporations in which Mr. Green is a shareholder, and were not owned by Mr. Green, personally.
    TAMPA -- The photographs seemed irrefutable. Flashed on a large screen above the heads of the Hillsborough County Code Enforcement board, they bore silent witness to the sorry and dangerous state of six apartment complexes.

    There were holes punched in the exterior walls of Amaretto apartments. Exposed wires peeking out of ceiling fixtures at Hunter's Pointe Apartments. Black mold in rotting cabinets at Amberwood apartments.

    The owner of all the apartments is New York native Steven Green, whose local properties came to the attention of housing inspectors last month when a tenant complained of a sparking outlet at the Amberwood apartments. Officials cataloged 300 violations at the north Tampa property.

    Detailing some of the more than 500 code violations found at Green's buildings, the chief of code enforcement told the board this was the biggest case brought against a landlord in Hillsborough.

    "These are the most extraordinary housing issues we've ever brought before the board," Don Shea said.

    Green's property manager Sharon Valenti, sent to face the board because Green was out of town, drew a very different picture. She said work crews had been busy at the complexes for days, fixing fire alarms, mending wires, patching holes.

    "We're doing the fire extinguishers," Valenti said, describing work at Hunter's Pointe. "The stairs have been repaired. . . . The fence has been repaired, the bare wiring on the ground covered."

    That drew heckling from several of Green's tenants.

    The code board wasn't swayed, either. William Fiedler, the acting special master, ordered Valenti to fix all the problems or face fines that could add up to thousands of dollars a day.

    Electrical problems must be repaired within seven days or a daily fine of $500 will accrue at each offending complex. Most of the other violations must be fixed in two weeks or an additional $500 per complex per day will be levied. And there will be more fines if Green rents vacant apartments that are not up to code.

    Shea said that some of the problems may be beyond the scope of the enforcement board and that he was working with the state attorney's office.

    Glenn Goldberg, Green's Tampa attorney, said his client intends to get the work done. Green owns 12 complexes in Hillsborough, plus a South Tampa mansion he calls home when he's not at his other residence in Yonkers, N.Y.

    "He's concerned," Goldberg said later Friday, after speaking with Green by phone. "He obviously wants to get down here and get to work."

    Shea said he thought it was a long shot that Green could fix everything before the deadlines.

    "It's a monumental task," he said. "If I was a betting man, I don't think I'd put money on these properties."

    Vagrants have already moved into Amberwood because apartments weren't adequately secured, Shea said.

    Three of Green's tenants at Hunter's Pointe Apartments on N 50th Street attended the two-hour hearing and scoffed at Valenti's statement that much work had been done.

    "I'm paying $669 for a so-called luxury apartment," Tammi Carr told the code board. Since inspectors had been making the rounds, superficial repairs had been done, she said, but problems remain.

    "The staircase is coming away from the wall," Carr said, describing ants, termites and deep holes in the ground for a sprinkler system that never was installed.

    A light switch was hanging off a wall until "the maintenance man came and Superglued it," Carr said. "The place is basically falling apart."

    After the hearing, Carr pulled aside the county's chief code inspector, Jim Blinck, to ask a question about Steven Green.

    "Is there any way he can be made to stay in these deplorable places?" she said.

    Blinck was sympathetic, but shook his head. "I don't think that's going to happen," he said softly.

    Another Hunter's Pointe resident, Daisy Black, said tenants tend to be "struggling, single parents." She took issue with the code enforcement system.

    "How could he own all those properties and the city and county allow him to do it?" she asked.

    Code inspectors act only when complaints are made, Shea said, because there aren't enough inspectors to scrutinize buildings routinely.

    In Tampa, Green has already racked up about $50,000 for previous violations, all unpaid, Shea said. New York City housing officials say Green still owes $2.3-million for apartment violations since 1986. Green has said he no longer owns the properties.

    -- Kathryn Wexler can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or wexler@sptimes.com.

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