Belleair officials say attempts to get the owner of the house at 1723 Cypress Ave. to clean up and make repairs to his property have been futile.
BELLAIR – For years the town of Belleair has been trying to get the owner of the property at 1723 Cypress Ave. to clean it up, but so far nothing has worked and the property remains in a state of decay, which has the neighbors worried about their property values.
Fines against the property at the rate of $250 a day have now piled up to over $100,000.
Police Chief Tom Edwards said repeated efforts by the code enforcement officer to get the owner, Casey Jones, to fix up his home and property were futile.
“We have not talked to him; he refuses to open his door,” he said. “We’ve posted notices on his door and he doesn’t appear at magistrate’s hearings. Once I believe his sister came down from up north to appear on his behalf, but he never shows.”
Edwards said the matter came to a head in May 2011 when an oak tree in Jones’ backyard blew over and damaged his roof and lanai and the neighbor’s fence and roof.
“Despite several notices and warnings he did not remove the tree. As a result the town had to hire a contractor to move in and take the tree away. It cost the town over $3,000,” said Edwards.
That incident led to even more violations by Jones.
“He had two big tarps covering his roof where some roof tiles were displaced by that storm,” said Edwards. “He tried to fix it himself but didn’t have any permits so a stop work order was issued. The roof is damaged and likely leaking and now neighbors are complaining because things are blowing onto their property. The tarps are now all torn and tattered and objects on his roof are posing a hazard especially if we have high winds. He is refusing to do any work.”
Town Attorney David Ottinger said the property was due for foreclosure by the bank, which holds the first mortgage.
“This is all very frustrating for towns and cities all over Florida which find themselves in these situations,” he said. “Code enforcement liens come behind first mortgages so if the bank foreclosed on the property then all the liens go away, including the $3,800 the town paid for the tree removal and the $100,000 in fines which have piled up.”
Ottinger said the town was about to make a proposal to the bank that would have seen the liens protected and the issue with the nuisance property solved.
“We were about to propose that we, the town, buy the mortgage from the bank then we’d step in and do the repairs ourselves. We never had a chance to talk about it. The bank had scheduled foreclosure sale but then Jones filed for bankruptcy to avoid the foreclosure.”
That means that everything else must take a back seat until the bankruptcy issue is resolved. The town has already gotten involved in the bankruptcy proceedings.
“We’ve participated in a creditor hearing,” said Ottinger. “Because the bankruptcy would strip the town of the liens for the tree removal and the fines we explained to the judge that the town’s problem is that the property owner did nothing. We have given the judge information and pictures to show how awful the property was.”
Ottinger said the bankruptcy judge has ordered mediation by Nov. 15 to see if the parties can work things out.
“Jones wants relief for his mortgage payments and the town wants Jones or the bank to bring the property under compliance. Something has got to be done,” said Ottinger.
All the while the frustration mounts in the neighborhood. Grant Larocque lives next door to Jones and has appeared often at Belleair Commission meetings, urging that something be done to fix the situation.
“I’ve been here for four and a half years and it has always been bad and it is getting worse,” he said. “He has done virtually nothing.”
Larocque said he and other neighbors are concerned about their property values.
“It does affect your property values,” he said. “We might want to sell in a year or so, but nobody is going to want to buy my house with that next door. It is unsightly, it is a nuisance and he needs to be foreclosed on. Our quality of life is affected, I have to look at this all the time.”
Town officials who have been unable to get Jones to clean up his property share the frustration.
“We are as frustrated as the neighbor,” said Chief Edwards. “We can’t move faster on the code violations, the process is slow. The bank has to take action and now the bankruptcy is closing it again.”
Ottinger said there might be some light at the end of the tunnel, sort of.
“Jones said if the bank will work out something affordable he’ll pay up and bring his property into compliance,” he said. “That is up to the bank, but we have no reason to believe him. We can hope that the bankruptcy judge tells him that he doesn’t have a viable plan to offer something to the mortgage holder and then it can go straight to foreclosure.”
Ottinger said the town would still be interested in taking over the mortgage.
“We believe the property has equity over and above the mortgage. For now though this property needs to be repaired; this can’t be tolerated anymore.”
Attempts to contact Jones for his side of the story were unsuccessful including no response to several knocks on his door.