Residents of Walden Pond mobile home park in New Port Richey have been informed by letter that the park, which endured flooding this wet summer, was closing at 11:59 p.m. July 31, and they need to leave, but some said Tuesday that they are staying put for now.
Some of those staying for now are Shea White, her 6-month-old-son, husband Brent Alan White and their three dogs. The Whites live in a rented trailer.
“If the cops come and make us leave, then we’ll be homeless with a baby,” said Brent.
The owners of Walden Pond mobile home park sent out a letter dated July 6 to residents that says the park is closing down, effective July 31.
The letterhead reads Walden Pond, LLC, which is a limited liability company that in 2005 bought the deed to the 8.23-acre Walden Pond mobile home park property, according to the Pasco County Property Appraiser's website.
The closure is “due to decreased occupancy at the park and ongoing issues with certain utilities,” according to the letters sent out. The letter says the recipient’s lease will be terminated at 11:59 p.m. and if the recipient isn’t off the property on Aug. 1, the recipient will be “deemed a holdover tenant, and Walden Pond LLC shall forthwith commence an action to recover possession.”
The letter the Whites received says they have a verbal lease. Other tenants' letters have said the same. Many residents say they have signed, written leases.
New Port Richey Code Enforcement Officer Liz Nichols has concerns. To legally evict people, a property owner needs to file paperwork through the court. It can only be served by the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.
So far she has not seen any legal notice filed through the courts.
“They’re probably going to get evicted, but it’s not tonight,” Nichols said as she stood in the park Tuesday.
Making Sure Tenants Know Their Rights
Many in the park are on fixed incomes. Some own their trailers. Some of those trailers are at least 10 years old. Assorted residents say they don’t have the money for security deposits as well as first and last month’s rent for another place to call home.
Nichols said she’s been handing out pamphlets letting tenants know their rights.
“They’re still in control of their property until they’re evicted by the sheriff,” Nichols said.
Nichols wanted residents to know if anybody other than the sheriff’s office tries to remove them from the park ”they need to call the police.”
Residents have been talking about seeking legal aid.
The park has flooded since Tropical Storm Debby visited and rains followed in her wake. FEMA has visited the park and offered to register them with the agency to see if they can qualify for assistance. Mike Glass, a local advocate for the homeless, has also lent a hand with assisting residents.
Pasco County Commissioner Pat Mulieri visited the park Tuesday with an attorney. Lara Curtis, a resident who spoke with them, said they talked about helping residents get relocation assistance. She is also staying put.
Shea White works at Arby’s. Her husband Brent is on unemployment, he says. They’ve sought help from FEMA but didn’t get it and are appealing that decision.
They've lived in a car before for a month. Their current vehicle has a broken part.
The Whites don't have money to move, they say.
Residents, Officials have Ongoing Concerns
Nichols said there have been code violations at Walden Pond, including one for trash and debris throughout the park that she gave an extension on.
This week, she also found another cause for concern. The leasing office at Walden was unsecured and there were items with personal information inside but no management present.
“Oh no!” Nichols exclaimed when she saw the office on Tuesday.
She had been told by Paul Beraquit, managing partner of Walden Pond, LLC, a day earlier that the office had been broken into. She called him Tuesday after she saw the office.
“You need to at least secure the building,” she said.
He said he would come and do that.
Beraquit has said that the park’s closing is due to “economics” and repeated that over the phone Tuesday. (For more of his reasoning, see our )
He says he believes he gave residents ample time and followed an appropriate process in telling residents to leave. He says some tenants have not paid rent. He says the unsecured office was “vandalized.”
When asked if he was going to turn off the water some time after 11:59 p.m. deadline, he said, “I believe so."
Nichols said that can't happen legally. State statute Section 83.67 says so, she said.
"If he's in control of utilities, he cannot interrupt or terminate service to make sure (tenants) vacate," she said.
Nichols let city departments, like fire rescue and the finance department, know about the situation in Walden Pond.
The water issue is something that is a concern for Cherry Paden, who recently started attending and fiancee Kevin Baker. They live in a rented trailer with 18-month-old daughter Chloe. On Tuesday, they were moving things to storage but planned to stay as long as they have water.
"I have nowhere else to go, and I have an 18-month-old," said Paden.