Fixed-income tenants forced out of Tampa apartments

- Dozens of residents at the Fountainwood Manor Apartments in Tampa are searching for a new place to live, after finding a notice on their doors from the landlord informing them they have 30 days to vacate.

Resident Kathleen Aldi is a veteran who said she’s currently out of work after having surgery. She said she does not have money to fund an unexpected move.

“This has stressed me out. I mean, the operation was enough stress, and this triples it,” said Aldi, who is currently trying to apply for disability.

“I have nowhere to go. I’m going to have to put my things in storage and hopefully the people I talked to today will come up with a homeless shelter for me to go to,” Aldi added.

Residents at Fountainwood Manor, on University Square Drive, said the notice, left on their doors last Friday, came as a surprise. Rumors about the apartment being sold and vacated began flying in January.

A mysterious letter appeared on some of their doors, warning residents that their landlord was on board with plans to rezone the property for a 6-story apartment building to house nearby students from the University of South Florida.

Days later, owner Gary Miller sent a letter to residents claiming the rumor was false, and he had no current plans to sell. Five months later, all of the tenants, some of whom signed new leases in the last month, are now being forced out.

“It’s heartless what he’s doing. He knew this was going to happen. He knew it was finalized. He should have let everybody know then, so we all have plenty of time to move out,” said Aldi.

She said some residents are banding together to fight the issue. A statement, drafted by residents, said they are requesting three things from their landlord:

1. A letter saying their leases were terminated at no fault of their own,  so the early termination won’t hurt them from finding a new place to rent

2. A payment of $2,000

3. 120 days (4 months) to relocate, instead of 30 days

According to Attorney Kirk Eason, with Palmetto Law, in some cases, tenants can take their landlords to court over a terminated lease.

“Florida Statute Chapter 83 specifically requires ‘good faith,’ so if you have a lease for a definite term, absent another provision saying that lease can be cancelled, no landlord can just say I’m cancelling the agreement,” said Eason.

For Fountainwood Manor residents, their leases included a provision allowing the landlord to terminate the agreement without cause if 30-days notice is given and $1,000 is paid to the tenant.
Eason said residents could still have a case.

“Is the landlord acting in bad faith? Did the landlord enter into the lease knowing that it was going to be sold a month later and never told the tenant? A provision like that, the courts in Florida do have the power to not enforce that in a landlord-tenant case,” said Eason.

Aldi said she is planning to file for disability, but she has no idea how long it could take to start getting money to fund her move.

FOX 13 was unable to reach owner Gary Miller on Wednesday.

According to a spokesperson with the University of South Florida, the university is not buying the property for student housing.

A university official said some companies will buy land and build apartments surround the university and market the rentals to students, however, they are not affiliated with the university.

Tenants have until July 16 to vacate.

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