St. Petersburg couple in financial dispute with landlord after apartment ceiling collapses | Tampa Bay News | Tampa

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Wendy Castro

The ceiling collapsed in Wendy Castro and Mark Smalley’s apartment on July 31.

The first panicked question that crossed Wendy Castro’s mind when she returned home with a collapsed ceiling in her St. Petersburg apartment was, “Are my cats alive?”

On the night of July 31, she and her partner Mark Smalley returned home to their Bamboo Apartments unit in the historic Old Northeast district amid a scene of chaos. The fallen ceiling left debris all over their belongings. But for Castro, what mattered immediately was finding his pets.

After sifting through the debris and what Castro described as “strange brown mud”, she found her cat Ronnie under the bed. He had pissed from being surprised by the collapse, and it was all over his fur.

“I was so glad he and my other cat were alive, I love them dead,” Castro told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.

After the relief of her cat’s survival overwhelmed her, Castro and Smalley, who both teach public schools for a living, began assessing the damage.

Their mattress was destroyed and an Xbox was destroyed along with various school supplies they bought out of their own pockets, along with thousands of dollars worth of other valuables. It took hours for emergency maintenance to arrive.

Click to enlarge Debris from the collapsed ceiling all over the room.  -Wendy Castro

Wendy Castro

Debris from the collapsed ceiling all over the room.

The couple had to leave their house that night and go to Castro’s mother in Brandon, Florida. She barely slept before returning to St. Pete to teach high school students Spanish on the first day of school.

Burrow, who manages dozens of properties in St. Petersburg, put them up in a hotel for about a week while repairs were made. After the repairs, Castro created a detailed lost and found spreadsheet for Terrier Properties, which manages the 12-unit apartment complex. The total amount of damaged goods was $3,751, Castro said.

She also claims that Terrier repairmen threw away and damaged several of their belongings. In August, Terrier said Bay 9 News that the couple would be “compensated for any loss”.

But for nearly three months, the couple struggled to convince Terrier to meet with them at the amount of damages sought. Via emails shared with CL, Terrier’s highest offer to Castro was $1,237, after initially offering less than that.

“What really hurts me is that every time I went into the office I was treated like I didn’t matter and was just trash. You know what I mean? Like I’m just replaceable,” Castro said.

A selfie of Castro and Smalley.  -Wendy Castro

Wendy Castro

A selfie of Castro and Smalley.

Peter Ford, Terrier’s chief broker, told CL that Castro had “launched a campaign of terror” against the company since the cap collapsed.

He said Terrier wanted proof of all listed destroyed items, but Castro claimed some had been removed by the management company. Ford also said Castro’s lease states that tenants are responsible for items inside the property, and he and Castro acknowledged that she did not have tenant insurance.

Still, Ford said the company originally offered to cover compensation for the items, but didn’t realize Castro would be seeking thousands of dollars in damages.

He claims that the roof issues are not what led to the ceiling collapse. “It’s not because of a problem with the roof, the roof is brand new,” Ford said. “It’s just that it’s an older building from the 1940s.”

Ford later corrected itself and said a new roof was fitted between 2010 and 2012.

He said the brown mud Castro mentioned could be old insulation from 80 years ago that may have fallen from the ceiling. Central heat and air may have been blowing moisture onto that insulation for some time, causing it to collapse, Ford added.

He said it was most likely a type of insulation called “rock wool” which is not harmful. But the Environmental Protection Agency has found some short-term health effects of rockwool, including: Reversible irritation to the skin, eyes, nose, and throat is associated with direct dermal exposure and ‘inhalation.

Asked about these health effects, Ford said his mention of the stone wool material was only speculation and said he would seek to confirm the cause of the collapse.

“The facts are that part of the ceiling fell off for no apparent reason,” Ford said.

St. Petersburg City Code Enforcement Records To display that the ceiling was repaired without a permit.

To back up his claims that Castro is harassing the company, Ford shared a text thread in which a Terrier employee sent a photo of Castro’s mattress with “Terrier is a slum lord! :)” spray-painted on it. , outside the apartment complex.

In the same thread, the employee said that there were people harassing him about the situation. Ford said if such behavior persists, they should call the police.

Castro said she painted the mattress because the company left the mattress crumbling with bags of debris in their bedroom so they could go home, of which she sent CL a photo.

A Terrier employee who also lives at the property called to request removal, Castro said, and was told Terrier could not resolve such issues over the weekend. So Castro moved it outside and painted it, and she says the company picked it up this weekend.

Ford also claimed that Castro planned to disrupt the company and shared screenshots of Mark Smalley chatting with someone online about setting up a meeting with the company in several places to update the company. property security.

Castro said those discussions never led to the actions they were discussing, but the conversations were warranted anyway.

“Whether [the conversation] was misinterpreted, I think our response would still stand, because we lost things we will never get back, our pets were nearly killed, and we were continually looked down upon,” Castro said. “This so-called ‘campaign of terror’ is only the consequence of their negligence which bit them in the back.”

Ford said he decided not to renew Castro’s lease after what he claims was continued assault from tenants following the ceiling collapse.

“She just gives more threats or demands more blackmail or harassment from my staff,” Ford said. “That’s when we gave him the notice of non-renewal because I’ve had enough.”

The landlord said he always tries to work with tenants and is patient with them.

“We’ve worked through the pandemic with all of these tenants and we haven’t evicted anyone for non-payment of rent,” he said.

But St. Petersburg Tenants’ Union tracked Terrier for years and pointed to Pinellas County court records that show six court-issued writs of possession to tenants of Terrier Management LLC for nonpayment during the moratorium period.

Ford did not respond to a request for clarification on the evictions.

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