by Arnaud and Naja Girard
Nearly a hundred mobile home owners have received summonses to show cause, in court, why Roy’s Trailer Park on Stock Island should not be declared unsuitable for safe habitation.
Last Wednesday 40 or so of the park residents gathered after work to try to understand what was happening to them. They had heard that a lawyer was coming to talk to them, but they were still waiting in the street, after dark, and no lawyer had showed up. When we left, tense and confused people were still debating, mostly in Creole and Spanish, uncertain about what to do.
“Everything those people in the trailers are going to tell you is a lie,” yelled one trailer park employee when we began asking questions.
So, what is going on? Is the County really trying to kick hundreds of desperate people to the curb and if so, why?
This is what we understood:
On May 27, 2015 one of the trailers at Roy’s caught fire. The fire department discovered that 14 people had been living in that one trailer. Nobody got hurt, but fire department officials were alarmed to find that a large number of trailers in the park were dangerously close to each other: a fire could easily burn out of control with no way to stop it, putting hundreds of people at risk. The fire department report concluded that Roy’s Trailer Park was “a tinder box just waiting to be ignited.”
The impossible problem of the illegal additions
The trailers are supposed to have a 10-foot fire safety clearance. They were initially placed far enough apart, but the trailers, you see, grew in size. They literally doubled, they tripled, thanks to the addition of illegal bedrooms, in many cases, on both sides.
According to a longtime park resident that trend picked up after the owners, Michael Browning and Thomas Sireci, Jr., began raising the rents under a contract signed by park residents in 2008. Rents went from $675/month in 2007 to over $1900 today. Rents will rise to $2,075/month after the new year.
Most park residents are paid near minimum wage and have large families. We saw a woman washing clothes by hand, many cars with handicap tags, and an army of children to feed. To get by, park residents have added entire bedrooms which they rent out to help pay the park owners. That’s one of the reasons why the fire department found 14 people living in the trailer that caught fire.
The trailer park owners have little incentive to fight the practice which has made it easier to charge nearly double the rent of other trailer parks in the Keys. Nearby Wreckers Cay, off Laurel Avenue, was charging around $1000/month before shutting down earlier this year. At Stadium Trailer Park, in Key West proper, mobile home owners currently pay $1100/month.
We are told that under Florida law mobile home park rents are considered “unreasonable” and can be challenged by residents if they exceed market rent. Even in a waterfront development like Keys Ventures in Key Largo the rental cost for the most expensive waterside lot is only $1100/month.
After the fire, the County initiated a code enforcement case against the park owners. The County claims that Browning and Sireci have been delaying the resolution of the park’s safety issues for over 4 years.
Browning and Sireci, who are both attorneys, point out that the County refused to follow the law and initiate code enforcement proceedings against the individual mobile home owners responsible for the safety violations.
Apparently the parties had a fallout over the scheduling of inspections and County bureaucrats lost patience. They filed for an injunction to close the park, sending park residents into a panic.
As of Saturday, local attorney John Agneti has begun to sign on with mobile home owners. The case is assigned to Judge Bonnie Helms.
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