OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. — All mobile home owners and some tenants with leases on Good Samaritan’s Kissimmee Village property that flooded after Hurricane Ian last month will have to start paying rent again Friday, the property announced.
Rent was suspended effective September 28 after the county placed an evacuation order over the property, forcing everyone out. The order was lifted on Monday, allowing residents of units that weren’t destroyed during the hurricane to move back in.
“Until further notice, a $100 per month credit will be applied to resident accounts due to the campus amenities that are unavailable,” property managers said, offering a small token of compensation amid the cleanup effort.
However, multiple officials expressed concerns that the rent resumption was premature. A FEMA official, speaking under the condition of anonymity, said every single so-called “livable” apartment unit was damaged and was at risk of developing mold infestations, if one wasn’t already present.
Pictures sent to WFTV of such units showed damage markers on the walls, signaling anywhere from two to four feet of drywall needed to be ripped out and replaced along with electrical systems.
On the mobile home side, the official said many homes were destroyed, but the property likely started charging rent again because the land it rents to the homeowners was dry.
A different source said the same concerns were relayed by FEMA officials to Osceola County through a conference call between the organizations monitoring the situation. County and FEMA officials confirmed inspectors were analyzing the units to determine which were safe to occupy.
The rent payments add another layer of complexity for attorneys working with many of the Good Samaritan population. In a trailer set up in the back of a hotel parking lot Thursday, residents met to discuss documents sent to them and possible legal actions they could take against the facility.
“Tenants can notify the landlord and they can either terminate the tenancy because the property is not habitable, or they can reduce the rent for the portion of the property that is not habitable,” Community Legal Services attorney Jorge Acosta said.
Acosta brought up the warning signs posted around the Good Samaritan complex and on its website warning residents of the dangers of being on property and entering units, and notifying them that PPE was available.
He said he was already working with a few tenants on this issue.
“To me, it wouldn’t make sense for them to be charging any rent,” he explained. “So if a tenant receives any notices or any rental charges, they should definitely talk to one of us.”
Good Samaritan leaders didn’t respond to a question about how many of their 179 livable units needed repairs. In a statement to WFTV, they said they were proud of their staff for the care they had given over the past month.
“Safety is our number one priority as residents and staff return to campus,” Aimee Middleton, Vice President of Operations, wrote. “We continue to work with a leading disaster and property restoration company to ensure the correct steps are being taken. Some of those items include, but are not limited to, power washing surfaces, assessments of units and buildings, [and] moisture and air quality testing.”
Middleton said the property was in contact with its insurance company about the damage.
However, most of the pre-Ian tenant population is now permanently displaced. Good Samaritan plans to tear down destroyed buildings without replacing them after this weekend.
The property sent lease termination notices, which included a liability waiver, to affected residents earlier this month. Residents reported aggressive efforts made by staff members to get them to sign the agreements before the end of October. On Friday, multiple people said some residents were handed a piece of paper asking them to “confirm” that they had agreed to terminate their leases, even though they had not signed any documents prior to that.
Lawyers have been warning residents against signing anything, particularly the waivers, without consulting someone first – and suggesting any signatures already collected may not hold up to a court challenge.
Acosta said Florida law was on the tenant’s side.
“The law requires that the landlord returns to security deposit after a specific passage of time after [a tenant] leaves, and they don’t need to sign anything to do their security deposit back,” he said.
Good Samaritan said any leases not terminated early would end on December 1.
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