OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. — Displaced Good Samaritan Village residents said they finally felt like their voices were being heard as the recovery process entered a new phase Wednesday.
>>> STREAM CHANNEL 9 EYEWITNESS NEWS LIVE <<<
The residents packed into a ballroom at the hotel many are staying at to hear from Community Legal Services leaders, who are jumping headfirst into what’s likely going to produce a legal battle between the community’s managers and the tenants.
This week, the residents were asked to sign lease termination agreements and move their remaining items off the property immediately in exchange for their security deposit. The agreements also included a liability waiver preventing the tenant from suing Good Samaritan.
The urgency has so far proved to be successful – Good Samaritan reported more than half of the affected tenants had signed the paperwork – but the residents themselves felt like they were being forced into a corner.
READ: Coolest night of the season so far is here
“Most of those pieces of paper have a lot of legal mumbo jumbo that you don’t understand,” one man said. “I just remember they said, ‘Sign here.’”
Stories like that got the attention of Community Legal Services attorneys, who are encouraging the residents to speak to them before signing any paperwork. Many of the residents at the meeting said they would not, and plan to sue Good Samaritan for not disclosing the risks of their units flooding.
“You don’t need to sign anything right now,” CEO Jeff Harvey said. “You’re not going to lose anything. Right now, you’ve got time to talk to somebody.”
READ: Good Samaritan Village residents face uncertain future as evacuation order continues
Harvey said his team would speak to each resident one-on-one to go over their circumstances as long as that resident reached out to them. He said they’d investigate possibly getting the signatures of people who already signed waivers thrown out in court by arguing they’d been coerced.
A Good Samaritan representative did not respond to the comments made by the residents or Harvey. Good Samaritan plans to tear down its damaged neighborhoods instead of repair the units and terminate leases as of December 1.
“We recognize this is a very difficult situation for the community,” a statement read. “We have explored alternative solutions, but unfortunately, they are not enough to address the long-term challenges.”
Photos: Hurricane Ian flooding, storm damage at Good Samaritan Village
Harvey scoffed at the property’s sudden need for urgency again and again during his interview.
“If a place is destroyed [the tenant] obviously cannot live there,” he said, “There’s still a contractual obligation between the two of them. It’s going to take a little while to dig through that.”
Osceola County, Community Legal Services, local and federal partners will hold a Town Hall-style meeting for Good Samaritan tenants and family members beginning at 6 p.m. Monday at Osceola County Housing and Community Services Building in Kissimmee, 1392 E. Vine St.
READ: How FEMA is getting information to those impacted by Hurricane Ian
Click here to download the free WFTV news and weather apps, click here to download the WFTV Now app for your smart TV and click here to stream Channel 9 Eyewitness News live.
©2022 Cox Media Group