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Bankruptcy filing stalls cleanup of blighted mobile home park

TAMPA — As the rain came down outside his open mobile home door, Leroy Carnegie sat inside and watched television on the couch with his dog, Rambo.

Carnegie is the last tenant of the Greenpark Residences mobile home park, a clutch of 18 aging single-wides surrounded by single-family homes at 5004 N. 19th St. in East Tampa.

“I’m enjoying the peace and quiet,” said Carnegie, 73, a pastor at the North Bay Missionary Baptist Church.

Carnegie is the unofficial security guard for the otherwise empty mobile home park, living in the only unit deemed safe for habitation.

City officials condemned and emptied 17 of the park’s 18 mobile homes back in 2012, relocating nearly two dozen tenants. Since then, however, they’ve been able to do little else with the property, stymied by appeals and a pending bankruptcy.

Greenpark’s owner, Ross Copelliti, has been called to appear today in the criminal division of municipal code court where Judge Dick Greco Jr. will set a date for a trial on 24 city code violations related to six units at the mobile home park.

In each case, Copelliti is charged with providing unfit living conditions in a rental unit, failing to provide electric heat, failing to provide smoke detectors and failing to keep walls, ceilings and floors in safe conditions.

Those are just the violations city attorney says the city can take action on at the moment.

In addition to today’s violations, Copelliti and Greenpark also face:

♦ Eight cases of code violations from 2011, some of which are being appealed to Hillsborough County Circuit Court.

♦ Nine demolition orders, some of them on properties involved in the appeal.

♦ $4.8 million in fines, which are still adding up at $1,000 a day per violation on those eight code cases.

Greenpark Residences Inc. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September 2012, stalling the demolitions, blocking any forced repairs and preventing the city from fencing the property for safety.

“The bankruptcy threw a hitch into this,” said Sal Ruggiero, who oversees code enforcement for the city’s Neighborhood Enhancement Department.

The case against Copelliti and Greenpark continues to test the city’s ability to stamp out low-quality housing that can threaten the lives of tenants and be a nuisance for neighbors.

Last summer, city officials forced William “Hoe” Brown, then chairman of Tampa Bay Port Authority, to remove a squalid, illegal mobile home park he has operated for two years on property in Seminole Heights.

That case prompted Mayor Bob Buckhorn to spend months on seven-day-a-week code sweeps of neighborhoods in central and eastern Tampa. It also led to the creation of code-only dockets within the circuit court, consolidating city cases that had been spread across multiple courtrooms.

Last fall, Buckhorn praised the code courts as a way to speed up enforcement cases that could bog down in the city’s Code Enforcement Board.

So far, Copelliti has spent more than six months appearing before the code court, only to seek delays because of the bankruptcy. Before the code court started, Copelliti appeared before hearings of the Code Enforcement Board, eventually racking up $4.8 million in fines.

The city has been able to get one thing accomplished at Greenpark recently.

Last month, code officials gave Copelliti 20 days to board up the mobile homes to keep out vandals and squatters. That was done by March 31 and those cases closed, said code officer Ryan Shepherd, who has overseen the efforts to clean up Greenpark.

A trial on the 24 code violations could eventually force Copelliti to do repairs to the mobile homes that generated the violations.

Meantime, the bankruptcy case continues.

Brandon Kolb, one of three attorneys now working for Copelitti, said his client had arranged to repay Greenpark’s creditors. Copelitti had a bankruptcy hearing on Tuesday and has another one April 25.

It’s not clear when the bankruptcy will reach its final resolution. Until then, the city’s attempt to clean up Greenpark remains in limbo.

“Until that bankruptcy is cleared up, we can’t knock anything down,” Ruggiero said.

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(813) 259-7871

Twitter: @kwiatrowskiTBO

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