What does the future hold for Tymber Skan, Orlando's most troubled condo complex?

Article Courtesy of The Orlando Weekly

By Erin Sullivan 

Published November 8, 2015


It's strangely quiet as the morning sun climbs over the weedy palm trees and tall oaks behind the buildings of Tymber Skan on the Lake condominiums.
Right around the corner, other apartment complexes and condo communities are waking up. Kids walk to school and adults wait in bus shelters for the Lynx to whisk them off to work. Impatient drivers race down Texas Avenue on their way to wherever.
The streets of Tymber Skan, though, are dead. Nobody is outside. There are no kids in sight. Most of the buildings look abandoned. Some seem like they're about to collapse. Holes have rotted through the decayed gray siding in one. The wood framing on the second story of another is visible from the street, because the siding and drywall has somehow gone missing. The windows have been smashed out of many of the buildings, but most are simply boarded up. A lot of the ones that aren't have burglar bars – or, in one case, the metal frame from a toddler's bed – nailed over them to keep intruders out.


Most people who hear about Tymber Skan, the troubled condominium complex located just a couple of miles from the tony Mall at Millenia, think nobody really lives here anymore – nobody who doesn't deserve to, anyway. Over the years, the place has been associated with nothing but trouble – crime, drugs, squatters, fires, shootings, delinquent utility bills. Last year, when Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings held a press conference to draw attention to the troubled complex and call for changes, shots rang out in the background while he talked to the press. It was the middle of the afternoon on a Monday.


Earlier this year, a man who bought 15 ramshackle units in Tymber Skan to rehab them and rent them out was shot and robbed while working on the buildings. In September, Bright House said it would cut cable and phone service to customers there after a technician was robbed at gunpoint.


So, for the most part, the public has written this place off as some kind of ghost town, inhabited only by the zombies who ran it into the ground.


But then, what's that little pink bicycle propped up against the wall next to the entrance of that condo unit over there? The one that looks a little less decrepit than some of the others around it? Where did it come from? Does a little girl live there? Who does she live with? Her mother? Her grandma? Does she have brothers and sisters? A cat? Is she allowed to play outside? Does she ever feel scared about where she lives?

Around the corner, there's a building missing all of its windows. Through the busted-out frames, the interior full of burned trash, rotted-out mattresses and charred wood is exposed. Across the street from this burned-out shell, there's a car parked in front of one of the units. A little brown pit bull tied to a porch with a rope eats breakfast out of a bucket. Clearly, somebody lives here. And even though they live in a place as hopeless as Tymber Skan, they care enough to make sure their dog is fed in the morning.

In just a few days, the Orlando Utilities Commission will turn water off to two-thirds of Tymber Skan because the homeowners associations governing two portions of the complex have failed to make payments on its utility bills. When that happens, people living in the affected units, which include the units where the little girl with the pink bike and the brown pit bull live, will be forced to make some tough decisions: They can try to stay and live without utilities until the county deems their homes unfit for human habitation, or they can voluntarily relocate with financial assistance from the county.

According to Dianne Arnold, administrator for Orange County Family Services, approximately 70 families will lose service when OUC turns the water off. The county has put door hangers and fliers around the community offering them relocation assistance, and 20 of them had contacted the county for help within a week. Arnold says she expects to hear from many more as the turnoff date creeps closer.

According to Bob Spivey, manager of the county's code enforcement division, which has levied more than $20 million worth of liens and fines against property owners here, the county doesn't face anything else quite like Tymber Skan. It is, he says, the worst of the worst.

Orange County is moving forward (slowly) with its plans to demolish as many of the buildings as it can. Over the years, he says, the county has invested money and resources to help Tymber Skan recover, but now its goal is to get people to move out.

"We have condemned the buildings," he says. "The association that's responsible for maintaining them is the party in violation. Now we have to go back and cite each of the individual unit owners. We've gone through that entire process for eight buildings, and those buildings have been torn down. By the end of this calendar year, we anticipate three more should come down, and then for next year, we're hoping to get as many as 10 or 11."

There's still one section of the community, though – Tymber Skan on the Lake Section Two – that has kept up with its bills and isn't affected by the OUC turnoff notice. The people who live in that section are trying hard to hang on. They say that despite the community's deteriorating condition and its horrific reputation, they've invested in it and have nowhere else to go. Tymber Skan is home, and they don't want to leave.

"Everybody out here is not bad," says Malinda McIntosh, who lives in the neighborhood with her kids and is one of two board members who run Tymber Skan Home Owners Association Section Two. "I understand getting rid of squatters, but legitimate people who are paying their rent and bills, you want to get rid of them, too? I don't understand that. And homeowners – what are you going to do? You can't just take people's land."

The story that's always told about Tymber Skan is that it started out as a pristine lakefront community when it was built in the early 1970s. It had a boathouse on Lake Catherine, tennis courts and a pool. According to a 1973 story in the Lakeland Ledger, the project was developed by a company called Diversified Communities, which built similar Tymber Skan communities in Lakeland and Ohio. The wood-sided buildings were styled after "contemporary California" architecture, the story says, with an emphasis on a "natural" look.

The community was organized into three separate sections, each of which had its own governing board – Tymber Skan on the Lake Homeowners Association sections one, two and three – as well as a master organization for all three to tend to common areas and amenities.

When the units were brand-new, Orange County Property Appraiser records indicate, they sold for about $20,000. An Orange County court records search shows that in the early 1980s, people started to foreclose on their units and some were subject to construction liens. Investors scooped them up and converted them to rentals. Foreclosure problems persisted through the 1990s, and as the number of owners to pay into the association declined, so did the services it could provide to residents. The pool turned green. Crime increased. Tymber Skan developed a reputation as a troubled community with an inefficient homeowners association and crime problems.

As Tymber Skan lore has it, hurricanes that hit central Florida in the mid-2000s were the first real nail in the community's coffin. Damaged units weren't repaired, and the shoddy construction of the condos meant that when one unit was damaged, the rot and mold and seepage infected the adjacent ones. According to a blog and Twitter feed that was kept up very briefly by a Tymber Skan resident named Joanne Porter, the clubhouse and pool were destroyed. Some people simply walked away from their units, leaving them to foreclose or simply crumble.

Then the economy took a dive, and it took Tymber Skan with it.

According to Frank Paul Barber, a court-appointed receiver who assumed the management of sections one and three in 2013 when the homeowners association for those sections could no longer keep up with the problems, things were dire when he took over. The unpaid utility bills were astronomical, he says, and there wasn't enough money coming into the association to keep things up. He says it was like "Beirut East" with all of its vacant structures.

"All the money went into just keeping things under control," he says. "There was never enough money to repair any buildings or do any common-area improvements. There were basically so many people in foreclosure, or who weren't paying or who abandoned their units, that there was just not enough."

Barber put together a plan for community revitalization that he submitted to the Orange County Board of County Commissioners, and it laid out a budget and rough framework to keep the lights on at Tymber Skan – at least temporarily.

He worked out a payment plan that allowed the community to gradually pay down its debt to OUC and keep up on new bills. Since so many units had squatters, he says, there was a lot of water usage. But squatters don't pay bills. And, unfortunately, he says, a lot of Tymber Skan's legitimate residents didn't pay them either.

"So all of the money went to pay for OUC," he says. "That water bill has been the villain ever since they stopped providing individual metered service. In all fairness to them, they didn't want their meter readers assaulted, [but] whatever I did with any money coming in was to pay the water bill."

Last year, a group of Tymber Skan property owners led by a man named Lorenzo Pinkston II, of a Poinciana-based real estate investing company called Pinkston Diversified, reorganized the Tymber Skan on the Lake Homeowners Association, as well as the associations for sections one and three of the Tymber Skan community. They petitioned the court to discharge Barber and turn the operations back over to the homeowners associations.

According to the court documents, Pinkston claimed that Barber had failed to keep up with his financial filings, mismanaged funds and fallen behind on paying OUC. "Pinkston requests this receivership be dismissed immediately following the filing of such reports," the court documents read. The request was granted, and on July 16, Barber filed his final report on the Tymber Skan situation:

"The properties began as one of the premier properties in the Orlando area and now may be considered one of the worst," Barber wrote. "The neglect of the buildings, the abandonment of units by owners, the investors who do not pay assessments, the decline of the economy at a critical time, the change in the Orlando Utilities Commission billing system, past boards of administration, and the continuing efforts by the County to demolish buildings and more items more numerous to mention have contributed to the state of the properties today. Going forward, without a major special assessment to make building repairs and legal expenses to gain ownership by the association of vacant lots for potential redevelopment, the property cannot be sustained."

Since Pinkston has taken over, he hasn't kept up with the agreed-upon OUC payments for sections one and three, either. So on Oct. 26, OUC cut the electric to the common areas of Tymber Skan. On Nov. 9, it'll cut the water, too. For public safety's sake, streetlights and fire hydrants will remain functional, but that's about it.

"The mounting bills in those two sections are in excess of $100,000," OUC spokesman Tim Trudell says. "We have an entire ratepayer system to worry about, too, and at some point, we have to do something to protect everybody in that system. ... We can't lose so much that it affects everybody else's rates."

Pinkston, who doesn't live at Tymber Skan but owns one rental unit there that he purchased in 2013, seems oddly at peace with OUC's decision.

"We've talked to the people on site and let them know if you don't pay rent or pay anything there's no way for the bills to be taken care of," he says. "And we're not receiving any income in from any owners in Section Two, so that has put us in a position where there's really nothing we can do as far as the water being turned off and the electricity."

He says that of 60 occupied units in sections one and three, 14 are owner-occupied. The rest are rentals, and he says there's only one tenant he can think of that pays rent regularly. (Although it's worth noting that several people in the community say Pinkston stopped accepting rent from tenants because he wants everyone to leave.) When the power and the water go out, he says, the delinquent tenants will go, too.

"We have an objective," he says. "The water being turned off will kind of purge Tymber Skan. Meaning, the people that refuse to pay, or who can't pay because they don't work, they won't be able to stay here anymore, and the association can move forward with its plans to restore Tymber Skan."

By "restore," though, Pinkston means tear it down and start over.

"We want a whole new development," he says. "We can't redevelop what's there because it's out of code, it's old. We'd end up spending more money rehabbing everything versus just building from the ground up. We're trying to work with some of the owners in good standing on this objective."

Pinkston even has a name for the new development: "In our business plan, we're calling it the Preserve at Lake Catherine," he says.

McIntosh says she has heard rumors of development plans, and that Pinkston has mentioned it to her in the past, but she says she doesn't really know what's going on, or how he plans to make his vision reality.

"He refuses to tell us, and he will not tell the lawyers anything he wants to do with the neighborhood," she says. "The homeowners have a right to know."

James Hurley of Apopka, who has been an investor in Tymber Skan for years (and who has been accused by tenants over the years of not making repairs to his rental units), says he has no idea what's going on, either.

"I'm not sure how useful I can be, because I'm having a hard time getting any meaningful answers," Hurley says when contacted for his thoughts on the community's future. "The person you really need to speak to is Mr. Pinkston. Have you spoken to him?" When told that we were waiting for Pinkston to return our call, Hurley responded: "Welcome to my world."

One part of Pinkston's plan is to get the Section Two homeowners association under the same umbrella as sections one and three. He says the only way to make any progress in Tymber Skan is if everyone's contributing to one organization, and right now, Section Two's independence – which may be the only thing keeping it afloat – makes that impossible.

"The original developer intended the development to function having all sections under one management party, the HOA," he says. "But what happened in Tymber Skan is for years prior to us coming on board the sections operated independently of one another, so if one section had problems, the others would watch that section fail, instead of combining efforts.

"In order to move forward, we need to have all the sections under one entity, so we can go to outside parties and say, 'Hey, this is what we have,'" he says. "We're going to need about $10 million to $20 million to redevelop this place."

But therein lies the problem: While everyone who's invested in this place wants improvement, not everyone wants to hand their property over so it can be leveled and redeveloped. McIntosh points out that there are some elderly people who own their units and some people who are still paying off mortgages. She says that Section Two has spent a lot of its time and money buying up units and fixing up the ones that aren't too far gone so they can be rented to people who need affordable housing – an increasingly rare commodity in Orange County.

"We are trying to do a program where people can do homeownership, rent to own, so they'd have the ability to own so they wouldn't have to worry about anything but water and electric and they could call it home," McIntosh says. "A lot of people in Orange County don't have a place to stay. And this is better than staying in a hotel."

Pinkston, though, has filed a motion in court to stop McIntosh and her fellow Section Two board member Joanne Ham from pursuing these activities. His filing says that in order for their homeowners association to be legitimate, it would need at least three board members – Ham and McIntosh are the only ones on the board in Section Two. He also says that neither of them is doing their due diligence when it comes to background checks on tenants, and that they are running an apartment-rental business rather than a legitimate HOA. He's asked the court to hand over control of Tymber Skan on the Lake Homeowners Association Section Two to the master organization he's in charge of "to manage its day-to-day activities." That case is still working its way through the court.

McIntosh's lawyer, Robert Anthony, who's been following the Tymber Skan saga for the past two decades, says Pinkston has no legal standing.

"His claims are without merit," Anthony says. "Section Two is a valid association and it's been a valid association for decades. It's totally independent from Section One and Section Three and Mr. Pinkston doesn't have any lawful rights to do anything about it. This is a highly unusual case, and what makes it very unusual is that Section One was an independent association, and Section Three was an independent association and Section Two is an independent association. Mr. Pinkston was somehow able to get himself appointed as the president of sections one and three, and he's been designated by himself as the president of this other association, which that I refer to as the so-called master association."

Whether his efforts to take control are successful or not, they may create enough chaos and confusion, especially amid the impending water shutoff to most of the homes in the community, that more people jump ship. Pinkston isn't shy about admitting that's what needs to happen. In the media over the past year, he's been the one urging people to get out, and having the water turned off will finally force the issue for many of the people who've stubbornly held on even as things grow more desperate. "Even though it's a bad situation," he says, "it's almost a situation that has to happen."

Orange County Code Enforcement says things have gone from bad to worse lately. The trash doesn't even get picked up anymore because the HOA doesn't pay the bill, and on a recent ride-along with code enforcement's chief inspector, Kurt Fasnacht, he points out that somebody has put big black tarps over full-to-the-brim Dumpsters so people can't add more trash to them. Sometimes, Fasnacht says, people light the overflowing Dumpsters on fire.

When asked what he thinks will happen to the people who've lived here as a place of last resort – the only place they can afford, even if it's too dangerous to go outside at night and the walls are crumbling down around them – Pinkston doesn't have an answer.

"I don't know," he says. "Like I tell them, it's never personal. It's business. I don't know what you do with people who don't make an income but need to live somewhere. I just don't."

Really, it almost seems impossible that the lights at Tymber Skan weren't shut off long ago. Units that aren't boarded up are ransacked. Everything from window frames to light fixtures to appliances to wiring has been stripped from them, and they sit wide open. Several of them have been set on fire, and their scorched hulls are a distressing reminder that these old wooden structures are highly flammable.

The common areas are piled with old furniture and broken glass. The grass hasn't been cut in forever, so every open space is choked with weeds and vines. Fasnacht says prostitutes work out of some of the units.

And yet there are also some single moms, families and old ladies here, too.

"When you drive through there and see kids peering through broken glass, it just almost brings you to your knees," code enforcement's Bob Spivey says. "It's something none of us should have to see, and people shouldn't have to live in those conditions."

And in a perverse turn of logic, some county officials hope that turning off the water might be the best thing that could happen to some of the people stuck here.

"I think there are probably people here who are looking for a way out," says Orange County Family Services' Dianne Arnold. She says the county is offering to pay first month's rent and a security deposit for Tymber Skan residents who need relocation assistance. "Sometimes out of bad things come things that are maybe good results. There might be people there who need opportunity. They might need the upfront money to get into better [housing] or better schools for their children."

But for the homeowners who actually own their units and who want to stay, there just aren't very many acceptable options. Do they stay and hope that things don't get even worse when the water gets turned off? Do they wait to see what Pinkston brings to the table? Do they just walk away?

"We would like to stay," McIntosh says. "This is what we call home. What if somebody came to your home and set up shop and just took hold and didn't even ask our opinion about anything and says that's just the way it is? You can't do people like this. People need to take heed. If this happens to this neighborhood, it can happen to the next."

For now, everyone's waiting to see what happens when the water is shut off to sections one and three. Spivey says he worries for the homeowners – the legitimate ones who've stuck it out all this time – but the county has little standing to intervene any more than it already has.

"That is one of the worst aspects," Spivey says. "People that put their life savings into a place to live – people that have lived there since the 1970s – will be without water, without power. What's going to happen to them?"