LARGO — Mobile home parks are a breeding ground for code violations, unlicensed contractors and unsafe practices, according to city of Largo Community Standards Manager Tracey Schofield.
And Largo has a lot of them — 55 within its limits and many more in its fire department’s service area, which is more per capita than anywhere else in Pinellas County.
All of those reasons are why Schofield’s division has teamed up with several city departments and outside agencies to crack down on violations and help educate property owners and managers about what to watch for.
The first phase of the effort was to create an informational program that city staff, which included members of Largo Fire Rescue, Police Department, Housing, Economic Development and Solid Waste divisions, presented Aug. 29 during an event titled Pride in Your Parks at the Community Center. Members of outside agencies, including Chore Services, Mosquito Control, Animal Control, Pinellas County Construction Licensing and Bay Pines VA, also shared their resources.
Schofield said all of the city’s parks were invited and representatives from about half attended.
“The goal of the program … is education-based with the hope that the mobile home communities will use the information to better police their own properties and residents, using our code of ordinances sort of as a guideline,” Schofield said Sept. 10 during a City Commission work session.
Of late, Schofield said he has had his four code officers do more work in the communities, but state law ties the city’s hands in many cases.
“They (mobile homes) are considered vehicles in the state of Florida, which means that the Florida Building Code that we use a lot of times for standards of living really don’t come into effect,” he said. “They are vehicles, and because of that, we are limited in what we can do sometimes within the structure.”
Therefore, work inside units doesn’t need permits, paving the way for unlicensed contractors.
“We’re getting ready to come into the season where we’re going to have all kinds of unlicensed, unlawful contractors invade Pinellas County,” he said. “And inside the mobile home parks is where they do a lot of their business.”
Commissioner Samantha Fenger has a grandmother who lives in a mobile home park, so she knows all about some handymen and the work they do.
“None of which is by anybody who is a licensed contractor, but it’s what everybody else does in the park, because that’s what Larry the handyman does,” she said.
Schofield said public health issues are also rampant, which is why the police and fire departments have been involved.
“We’ve got a number of cases right now where people are living in 150 feet, 200 feet of square footage,” he said. “They’ve built bathrooms in their carports. … We’ve got five families in a 800-square-foot mobile home. Before we could address that, it burned to the ground. Those families, luckily, all got out. Those are the type of things that we saw in the last month or so just within our local community.”
Mental health problems are also prevalent, Schofield said.
“There’s not a lot of places for people with mental health issues,” he said. “Unfortunately, they stay in their homes and our police departments, fire departments and Community Standards, to some level, deals with this every day.”
Commissioner Curtis Holmes, who is liaison to the Code Enforcement Board, said the conditions some people live in are shocking.
“Some of the stuff that comes before that board is eye-popping,” he said. “You just can’t believe. There was one at the last meeting that you looked at this mobile home, for lack of a better word, and it smelled bad to look at.”
The man in that case, Schofield said, happened to be a veteran, so it showed why getting the VA involved was beneficial.
The next goal of the process is check out each piece of property in the city, Schofield said.
In October, officers will start in the west side of Largo and move east, patrolling three or four parks each week.
He said they will be looking for typical violations, such as excessive outdoor storage in carports, and will begin with courtesy warnings and education.
“We’re hoping the parks are going to get ahead of this and start addressing this,” he said.
Until that happens, Schofield said he thinks the city’s efforts are paying off.
“We went through a park a couple of months ago and out of the 300 units 197 of them had violations,” he said. “Some of them were drastic, some of them were small, but there was a number of issues and we got all but 10 of them to come into voluntary compliance.”