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Park hit hard on violations

About 1 in 5 homes in the Sunpiper Mobile Home Park are declared unfit for habitation.

By LORRI HELFAND
Published July 28, 2006


LARGO - About two dozen city inspectors, police officers and environmental service workers flooded into Sunpiper Mobile Home Park Wednesday morning, issuing more than 30 violation notices in just a few hours.

Fifteen of about 70 homes, which are rental units, were tagged with signs saying they were uninhabitable. Five homes received violation notices because sewage was seeping from the bottom of them, building official Mike Sizemore said.

The city, which has cracked down on problem parks in the past, was re-energizing its commitment to do so, City Manager Steve Stanton said.

"It's depressing to find that people are living in those conditions," Stanton said. "I'm embarrassed that it's gotten to that state."

Park owner Andrea Trani said Largo's actions were out of line.

"These type of Gestapo tactics are unbelievable. They're scaring people," said Trani, president of Key Largo Communities, which bought Sunpiper and Braginton Mobile Home Park this month for about $2.6-million.

Worst of all, Trani said, her property, at 1760 Clearwater-Largo Road, wasn't even legally annexed by Largo. Her attorney, Michael Rodriguez, said he was seeking an injunction to prevent future harassment from Largo officials.

Stanton said the property where Sunpiper sits was legally annexed several months ago. But he also said the health violations are an issue no matter what jurisdiction the park is in.

"In all reality, from the issues these people are dealing with, I think the county would be taking the same approach," Stanton said. "Whether it's in the city or not is not the issue. It's the unsafe issues of the park that are the issue."

Windows on several of the mobile homes are held together with silver or blue tape. Most of the homes, which are 17 to 48 years old, are battered, but appear relatively clean on the outside.

Still, Sizemore said, almost all of the units, which rent from about $525 to $725 a month, had some kind of disrepair.

"To me, the landlord is taking advantage of these people," Sizemore said.

A number of residents stood up for the landlords, saying they cleaned out heaps of trash in the park and fixed plumbing and other problems that previous landlords ignored.

"This lady's trying to help us and they're trying to close her down," said Toni Prevost, 40, who received a violation notice for stacking coolers on her back porch.

Trani said she's already invested about $50,000 to revamp Sunpiper and Braginton.

But some residents said problems with their homes fell on deaf ears, and a few said they wouldn't criticize the landlord for fear of eviction.

Carolyn Reed, who lives with her husband and 21-month-old daughter, said she's been having problems for months with flushing the toilet.

Her home is one of the five that were found to be seeping sewage. There was no pipe connecting the home to the sewer system, officials said.

Reed, who covered holes in her walls with a calendar and aluminum foil, said she also has a leaky roof, soft spots in the floor and ant and roach problems she and her husband are treating themselves.

Trani said the tenants who complain are probably disgruntled because they're facing eviction.

Largo officials asked tenant James Disbrow, 37, to relocate himself and three children until his power was turned on. Disbrow, whose rent is $725, had hooked extension cords to his friend's unit to get electricity, and city officials said that was unsafe. He said he did so because he couldn't afford a $550 deposit to get power turned on yet.

Disbrow, who said he wasn't upset with the city, asked, "If this park gets shut down, do we get thrown out on the street?"

Barbara Willardo said she wasn't upset with Largo officials either.

"We're not all bad people and we don't deserve to live badly," she said. "Even my own daughter said it: Finally somebody cares about us."

Times researcher Angie Holan contributed to this report. Lorri Helfand can be reached at 445-4155 or lorri@sptimes.com.

[Last modified July 27, 2006, 23:03:46]


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