55-plus community faces investigation

At issue is whether Riviera Estates discriminated against a couple housing relatives under 55 years old.

Article Courtesy of The St. Petersburg Times

Published March 22, 2006

CLEARWATER - Pinellas County is investigating an age-restricted community that threatened to evict a resident who allowed his daughter-in-law and grandchildren to live with him.

The county's Office of Human Rights filed a complaint against Riviera Estates last month, said Leon Russell, Pinellas human rights Equal Employment Opportunity Commission officer. Russell's office is handling the investigation.

"Our basic premise is to determine whether a violation of the Fair Housing Act has occurred," Russell said. "We'll be looking at whether their housing of older-people status is valid under the federal law."

Age-restricted communities, such as Riviera Estates, are required to follow certain federal and state laws to maintain their status. If they don't follow those rules, it is illegal to identify the neighborhood as age-restricted.

On a routine basis, the properties must file information with the state verifying that at least 80 percent of their residents are 55 and older. Riviera Estates management officials said the younger people in this case did not fall into the 20 percent because they were visitors, and visitors are limited to 30-day stays.

The "age-restricted" designation is considered an advantage in marketing to older people interested in quiet surroundings populated with people their own age.

Russell said his office wants to ensure that the California-management company, Arc Investments, is operating Riviera Estates as a valid age-restricted community. The office also is looking into whether community management enforces the age-restriction uniformly.

"The question would be, "How have they treated people who have applied previously that may have had minor children?' " Russell said."And if they're not being consistent, it could mean that there may be a violation when they threatened the eviction."

Russell said the office decided to file a complaint against Riviera Estates, a formality that allows the office to investigate, after stories ran in the St. Petersburg Times about the incident.

Sharon Stewart, regional manager for Arc Investments, said the community has followed the law, "100 percent."

"We file with the state to be registered as a 55-plus community, we have records of that, we do the age census that is required, and we advertise it as a 55-plus community," Stewart said.

In February, Thomas Boyette, received an eviction notice from the park's management. Neighbors complained that Boyette's daughter-in-law and grandchildren had been staying in his three-bedroom coach longer than the permited 30 days.

Boyette's son, Sean, was deployed to Iraq in September. A few months after Sean's deployment, his wife, Trish, sold their home but had nowhere to go because the family's new home wouldn't be ready until March. So Boyette took the family into his home.

So Boyette opened his doors to the family while they waited for their home to be completed.

Even after receiving two eviction notices, Boyette refused to make the family leave, saying he'd fight the eviction.

The controversy mellowed Feb. 28 when Trish Boyette and her children moved into their new Citrus Park home. The move short-circuited the eviction proceedings threatened against Boyetteand his wife, Deborah.

Almost a month later, Boyette said relations with neighbors aren't quite the same as before.

"Relationships seem strained, everybody is very subdued," he said. "Us included, I think."

Before the hubbub surrounding his family's stay, he considered Riviera Estates a place where he'd grow old.

"I thought it was a community of like-minded people," he said.

Since then he's changed his mind.

"We like to run and do, and go have fun," he said. "I think most here want to sit around and spy on each other. . . . If this is what it means to get old, I really don't want to get there."

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