Deplorable conditions found at apartments Bilirakis owns

An overflowing septic tank, crumbling stucco and holes in walls are among the buildings' problems.

By DEBORAH O'NEIL

St. Petersburg Times, published March 26, 1999

DUNEDIN -- The poor, Mexican families on Belle Haven Drive and Park Drive quietly tolerate the chronic disrepair in their apartments. They live with rotting wood, leaky plumbing, exposed wiring, peeling linoleum.

For this they pay $375 to $420 a month. Their landlord: U.S. Rep. Michael Bilirakis.

The three buildings were new when Bilirakis and his wife, Evelyn, bought them 18 years ago. Now, Mrs. Bilirakis acknowledges, they are in "terrible" condition. In recent years, the tenants have been young immigrants who speak little or no English and sometimes don't have the required paperwork to be in the country. They don't complain, they say, because they are afraid and don't want to cause problems.

Bilirakis said he has not been to the property in years and leaves the operation entirely to the property manager. He acknowledges the apartments are not what should be expected of him.

"Frankly, I didn't know they were in such bad shape," Bilirakis said this week in a telephone interview from Washington. "I don't want to make it sound like I'm trying to shirk responsibility. We found out problems have developed, and we're making sure the problems are being taken care of."

Neighbors say they have considered the buildings eyesores for years.

Bilirakis, a Palm Harbor Republican who has served in Congress since 1982, said he doesn't blame them for being upset.

"They (the units) just fell apart," he said. "I don't know how much of that is lack of maintenance or how much is the tenants. I am sorry it's happened."

Mrs. Bilirakis said she recently went inside the apartments while showing them to a potential buyer.

"I was shocked," she said. "How they got into that condition, I don't know. If I'd known how bad it is, it wouldn't have been going on."

Cindy Claveau, who lives a few doors away on Belle Haven, said she has always assumed the property owner was "just a slum lord, someone with a lot of money who just doesn't care."

* * *

"He's really the landlord?" Claveau said when told Bilirakis owns the property. "Oh my God."

The properties adjoin: duplexes at 2741 and 2747 Park Drive and a triplex at 2736 Belle Haven in an unincorporated area in Bilirakis' district.

They are surrounded by a few modest homes and other apartment buildings.

On Belle Haven Drive, Bilirakis' triplex stands out because the Dumpster in front is often overflowing, neighbors say.

Discarded furniture sometimes piles up for weeks before it is taken away, said Barbara Mendelsohn, who lives next door.

Last week the septic tank behind the building overflowed, filling the air with the stench of sewage that bubbled up in the back yard. By Tuesday, an old mattress had been thrown over the opening where the cover was missing.

The property manager, Tarpon Springs accountant A.C. Samarkos, said the tank was pumped just a month ago and must have malfunctioned. The problem, he said, is being addressed.

Andres Primero lives in a one-bedroom apartment in the Belle Haven building with his wife and 1-year-old daughter. Because he was working, he said, he waited two weeks before reporting the full septic tank to Samarkos, whom he calls "El Patron."

Raul Perez, 23, who has lived in a two-bedroom Bilirakis apartment on Park Drive for four years, said tenants don't want any trouble with the landlord and don't want their rent to go up.

Rather than complain, they try to make repairs themselves.

Perez said since he moved in he has painted the apartment him self, contributed half the money toward a new carpet and put down poison rather than report a rodent problem that lingered for two years.

"We think we will create problems and we'd rather avoid all that," Perez said through a Times interpreter. "I don't want to cause problems and argue when they say no."

All three buildings show signs of neglect. The exterior stucco is crumbling and front steps are missing. Some doors are falling apart and the frames are cracked. Outdoor lighting fixtures are missing or broken. Empty window panes are boarded over and screens are missing or torn.

"It's disgusting," said Mary Libby, who lives at the end of Belle Haven. "It's deteriorating the whole neighborhood."

Inside, there are holes in the walls and wiring is exposed. Toilets and sinks leak, doors are off hinges, kitchen and bathroom cabinets are missing doors and drawers.

County inspectors have cited the Bilirakis properties for excessive trash, but, records indicate, never have inspected the interiors because the tenants never complained. Samarkos said he considers some of the apartments "fairly nice" and all have been improved in recent years.

Tenant complaints are always addressed, he said.

"They're all not in terrible condition," he said.

But, Samarkos said, he hasn't inspected inside the apartments for at least a year because he has been sick. And, he said, he has at times gone into an apartment after a tenant left and seen problems that were never reported.

When a reporter cited some of the current problems, he said, "You're telling me stuff now I'm not really aware of."

The buildings the Bilirakises bought for $215,000 in 1981 are now assessed for tax purposes at $206,500 by the Pinellas County property appraiser.

Samarkos said the rent he collects does not cover the mortgage and expenses, but he would not provide specific figures. He said it was a private matter. He covers any shortfalls out of his own pocket, he said.

The Bilirakises, who referred all financial questions to Samarkos, said they receive no money from the buildings and now intend to sell them.

"You buy these things and you hope they might gain in value," Bilirakis said. "We haven't gotten any benefit from them whatsoever. I'd love to be able to dump them."


The Tampa Tribune 3/27/99

Bilirakis is landlord of shabby apartments

An Associated Press report

DUNEDIN -- Families are paying $375 to $420 a month for apartments with rotting wood, leaky plumbing, exposed wiring and peeling linoleum. And their landlord is U.S. Rep. Michael Bilirakis.

The congressman who bought the apartments 18 years ago said he was not aware of how badly the three buildings had deteriorated.

"Frankly, I didn’t know they were in such bad shape," said Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor. "I don’t want to make it sound like I’m trying to shirk responsibility. We found out problems have developed, and we’re making sure the problems are being taken care of."

Bilirakis said he has not been to the property in years and leaves the operation entirely to the property manager.

In recent years, the tenants have been young Mexican immigrants who speak little or no English and sometimes don’t have the required paperwork to be in the country, the St. Petersburg Times reported. They don’t complain, they say, because they are afraid and don’t want to cause problems.

Cindy Chaveau, who lives a few doors away, said she has always assumed the property owner was "just a slumlord, someone with a lot of money who doesn’t care.

"He’s really the landlord?" Claveau said when told Bilirakis owns the property. "Oh my God.."

Bilirakis, who has served in Congress since 1982, said he doesn’t blame the neighbors for being upset.

"I don’t know how much of that is a lack of maintenance or how much is the tenants," he told the Times for a story in Friday’s editions. "I am sorry it’s happened."

The adjoining properties include two duplexes and a triplex in an unincorporated area in Bilirakis’ district. They are surrounded by a few modest homes and other apartment buildings.

Last week the septic tank behind one of the buildings overflowed, filling the air with the stench of sewage that bubbled up in the back yard. By Tuesday, an old mattress had been thrown over the opening where the cover was missing.

The property manager, Tarpon Springs accountant A.C. Samarkos, said the tank was pumped just a month ago and must have malfunctioned. The problem, he said, is being addressed.

Samarkos said he considers some of the apartments "fairly nice" and all have been improved in recent years.

But all three buildings show signs of neglect. The exterior stucco is crumbling and front steps are missing. Some doors are falling apart and the frames are cracked. Outdoor lighting fixtures are missing or broken. Empty window panes are boarded over and screens are missing or torn.

Inside, there are holes in the walls and wiring is exposed. Toilets and sinks leak, doors are off hinges, kitchen and bathroom cabinets are missing doors and drawers.

County inspectors have cited the properties for excessive trash, but, records indicate, never have inspected the interiors because the tenants never complained.

The buildings Bilirakis bought for $215,000 in 1981 are now assessed for tax purposes at $206,500 by the Pinellas County property appraiser.

Bilirakis said he hopes to sell the buildings.

"You buy these things and you hope they might gain in value," he said. "We haven’t gotten any benefit from them whatsoever. I’d love to be able to dump them."

 

A Times Editorial

Lawmaker and slum owner

St. Petersburg Times, published March 29, 1999

 Judges sometimes sentence slumlords to live in their own dilapidated buildings. If U.S. Rep. Michael Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, truly is sorry about the deplorable condition of the rental property he owns in Dunedin, he should volunteer to move in for a few nights. The experience might make him more sensitive to the plight of the tenants, many of them poor immigrants from Mexico, who pay him between $375 and $420 each month to live in his slum apartments.

For someone who likes to brag about his frequent trips home to meet with constituents, Bilirakis sounded incredibly clueless -- and remarkably cavalier -- about the dilapidated apartments he and his wife have owned since 1981. When contacted by Times reporter Deborah O'Neil concerning the rotting wood, leaking plumbing, exposed wires and other hazards in his buildings, Bilirakis tried to pin blame for the problems on his property manager. "Frankly, I didn't know they were in such bad shape," he said.

He has a responsibility to know.

Bilirakis apologized for allowing his property to fall into such a state of disrepair. Now that he is aware of the problems with his apartments, he said, "we're making sure the problems are being taken care of."

The representative prides himself on staying in touch with his constituents. Maybe it's time he started staying in touch with the people renting his slum properties.


HOME