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Waterman's Crossing renters say home no castle

Published May 18, 2007


An advertisement for Waterman's Crossing apartments says the units have gourmet kitchens and energy-efficient appliances.

"It is the home you always dreamed of, " the recorded pitch tells callers on hold, as elevator music plays in the background.

But some former and current residents of the sprawling complex near the Hillsborough River give another description: their worst nightmare.

They talk of leaky pipes, mold, cockroaches and sewage running into their homes. Dripping faucets, they say, have driven up their water bills.

And last week, former Waterman's resident Bonnie Wheaton filed a lawsuit against Waterman's Crossing apartments seeking nearly $10, 000 for personal property she said was destroyed when a burst water pipe caused a flood in her apartment.

Wheaton's attorney, Jeff Chambers, said this week that apartment management had not responded to a certified letter he sent in January.

Chambers also represents James Blanton, who still lives at Waterman's and has not yet filed a lawsuit.

Vicky Jones, the complex's on-site manager, would not comment on the allegations made by Wheaton and Blanton and said she was not aware they planned to sue.

Jones said early this week that many improvements have been made in recent months, citing upgrades to the fire extinguishers as one example.

"Everything is being upgraded to ensure that our residents have a safe place, " Jones said.

- - -

Wheaton, 51, says her horror story came to a head a few days before Thanksgiving when a broken water pipe caused the ceiling to give in.

"I was devastated, didn't have anywhere to go, " she said. "The house was flooded, soaking wet."

She says apartment management did little to help, and by Christmas the apartment was smelly and roach-infested, forcing her to cook dinner at a relative's house.

On Jan. 5, another pipe started leaking and, Wheaton said, sewage spilled into her home. She lost furniture, rugs, bedding and family pictures.

"That apartment was unlivable, " Wheaton said.

That same month Wheaton took her $2, 300 income tax refund and used it to move into a single-family home.

Tampa officials are aware of problems at Waterman's Crossing. The complex has 15 outstanding code violations, according to city of Tampa Code Enforcement records. The violations all cite general structural problems, which can include electrical and plumbing equipment.

The complex, which has 403 units according to its Web site, was fined nearly $3, 000 in March for code violations. That fine was later reduced to $675.

- - -

Blanton works at a local furniture warehouse and has lived in Waterman's Crossing for six years. Recently he has gathered brochures from area apartment complexes, but he really doesn't want to move.

Apartments at other complexes cost more than the $757 rent he pays for his three-bedroom, two-bathroom unit.

"Why should I move? I'm paying rent, " said Blanton, 50. "Why don't they do their job to fix it up?"

Blanton said he has also experienced repeated leaks and, like Wheaton, mold problems.

On a recent visit, Blanton showed off his bathroom faucet that never stops running and mold building up below his register.

As he remembers it, Waterman's problems started in 2003 when the complex was sold to a company called Reliance Waterman's Crossing LLC for $14.5-million, according to Hillsborough County property records. The complex was sold again in 2005 to its current owners, AHF Bay Fund LLC, for $19.2-million.

A fire destroyed 11 apartments at the complex in February 2006. Firefighters complained at the time that they couldn't get enough water pressure from the hydrants in Waterman's Crossing at 4515 N Rome Ave.

Jones, the manager, said the damaged building was recently rebuilt and is ready for tenants.

- - -

Water has long been a problem for some at the complex. Wheaton, Blanton and another tenant, Karen Campbell, said they have fought high water bills for years. Blanton blames the high bills on drippy faucets, running toilets and leaks that aren't fixed right away.

Campbell, who has lived in the complex since 2003, said her water bill jumped from $37 to $150 in one month. She refused to pay it and bills continued to accrue. She now owes $1, 200. Blanton owes about $1, 400.

Meanwhile, tenants now share the cost of the water - their bill is calculated by apartment size and number of tenants, rather than from a meter reading.

Campbell hasn't heard anything more about the water bill and hopes that the most recent owners of the complex are absorbing the debt. (Jones would not talk about the water bills.)

Still, Campbell recommends the place to co-workers at Tampa General Hospital.

Compared to the apartment where the 41-year-old lived in Washington, D.C., before coming to Tampa, she says the neighborhood near Waterman's is quiet and you can't beat the price.

In D.C., Campbell paid $900 for a three-bedroom apartment in an area that was "really ghetto, " she said.

At Waterman's Crossing, she pays $850 a month rent for an apartment that she said is larger and nicer.

[Last modified May 17, 2007, 07:39:40]

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