Public shame outweighs the stinking callousness of Tampa Bay owner

This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.

It’s hard to say what’s worse about a plumbing problem a homeowner refuses to fix: the health nightmare or stinky indifference. A Tampa family endured the two for months, begging a property manager to clean up the mess they were paying high rent in to live on. The episode shows a sobering economic reality in Tampa Bay in 2021: In a housing market the guy loses.

Times Writer Kavitha Surana recently recounted the plight of a husband, wife and their four school-aged children who moved into a three-bedroom house in a housing estate bordered by the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway, between downtown and Brandon. At $ 1,510 per month it stretched the family budget, but it had a spacious backyard and was close to the children’s school. These are basic characteristics a resident looks for when looking for accommodation, but few can afford to be special in this market, where it takes three minimum wage jobs to cover the average rent.

The story reviewed the text messages Shajuana Kitchen sent to her property manager when the tub receded and water seeped through the floor. Kitchen’s apology and unfailing politeness is painful to read, considering that she and her husband had to remove water from the tub every night and drive their kids to a McDonald’s restaurant to use the potty.

(Clockwise from top left) Michael Pate, 53, Shajuana Kitchen, 42, Eugene Pate, 8, Katelynn Pate, 6, Miracle Pate, 5 and Gregory Pate, 9 years. The family is accommodated in a hotel on the weekend of a family wedding. . “We couldn’t stay in the house. The kids have been through so much and my oldest daughter is getting married today, ”said Michael Pate. The family is pictured on Saturday October 9, 2021. [ JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times ]

Market conditions aside, every homeowner should be required, at a minimum, to maintain safe and hygienic properties – and to react quickly when big problems arise. But the response from Starwood Capital, the out-of-state investment firm that owns the home, was to ask its property manager to send a plumber to unclog the tub, which again backed off. Then they completely dug the tub, leaving a gaping black hole in the ground. The property manager’s text to Kitchen: “You have a working bathroom,” apparently finding the problem solved because the other bathroom in the house was not a health hazard. These toilets eventually collapsed too.

The property manager finally recognized how serious the problems with the house were. But instead of committing to fixing them, they told Kitchen that she and her family should move out. The lease contained a provision allowing the landlord to terminate the contract if the house became “substantially deteriorated”. Again, that meant Kitchen would have to navigate the punitive rental market to try and find his family a decent place to live.

Fortunately, once the Times began to shed light on this unflattering story, Starwood stepped up. He found an Airbnb for Kitchen and his family to move into during the repairs. But that only raises the question: if the company could pay an Airbnb to house the family and fix the pipes, why did it take months of advocacy and ultimately be humiliated by the local media to do what was right? necessary from the beginning?

Of course, most homeowners aren’t that careless. But with large conglomerates buying more and more from the local rental market, tenants find themselves with less power. While this has turned out well for Shajuana Kitchen and her family, there are still countless tenants across Tampa Bay in similar straits.

A drastically imbalanced seller’s market means that families who buy their first home are left behind by buyers with more cash on hand. This means that tenants, many of whom cling to the lower rungs of any market, too often face mistreatment and unacceptable conditions because there are so few affordable options. At a minimum, the toilet should flush and the tub should not leak.

Editorials are the corporate voice of the Tampa Bay Times. Members of the Editorial Board are Editorial Board Editor Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chief Executive Officer Paul Tash. To follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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