Courtesy of The Tampa Bay Times
Published July 16, 2015
NORTH TAMPA — Rafael Torres, who produces receipts to
show he faithfully pays his water bill, stands ready with rain-filled
buckets for July 20, the day the City of Tampa has threatened to turn his
|If he has to, he'll use the rain
water for bathing and flushing toilets and keep a supply of
bottled water for drinking, he said.
"This is a very, very bad situation,'' Torres said.
The 76-year-old Torres lives on his monthly government check
of $1,083 and owns a townhouse at Temple Terrace Patio Homes
Condominiums, a troubled community in Tampa near the Temple
Terrace city limits.
Though Torres makes his water payments, the city bills the
complex as a whole, and Temple Terrace Patio Homes owes
about $19,000 in unpaid water bills. So Torres and every
other resident at the complex might lose service.
Tampa water department director Chuck Weber said it's rare
for a tenant-owned complex to fall so far behind in its
"We're hopeful we can
avoid having to turn the water off,'' he said.
City Councilwoman Lisa Montelione, who represents the area,
said she hopes a payment plan can be worked out.
"The the last thing I want to see is
residents without water," she said. "I'm trying to get my
head around how the city could terminate the water for
everybody in the complex.''
Rafael Torres, who regularly pays his water bill, is
collecting rain water in case the city shuts off the water at his
Avelino Vide, of Avid Property Management, said the problem was out of hand
before Avid took over the complex two years ago.
Vide said the previous management company had switched from reading
individual townhouse water bills to charging residents a flat fee for water
and a monthly maintenance bill.
That left no incentive for homeowners to conserve use or fix leaks, he
The recession compounded the problem, said Jose Lozano, a 15-year resident
and vice president of the homeowners' association. Banks foreclosed on
condos and renters failed to pay their bills. At one time just 25 of the
units were paying their water bills, Lozano said. Steadily, the debt
When Avid took over, it struggled to make current and back payments, Vide
said, and water officials warned last fall that Avid wasn't making enough
That was when the company started reading individual meters again and
charging residents accordingly. It charged residents $550 to help make up
the deficit, but that just added to the burden for people like Torres, who
already pays a monthly $299 maintenance fee and payments on a previous
Since then, Vide said, the company always has paid the current bill and put
a little toward the debt. "Some months it's $10,000 extra; others it was
$2,000.'' But the city was no longer willing to accept the piecemeal
arrangement, he said, so it sent the July 20 ultimatum.
Weber said the company has made considerable progress toward paying off its
debt. It owed $60,000 in January; $46,000 in May; and now about $19,000.
Depending on what Avid can come up with on July 19 — the day assessments are
due — the city might give Temple Terrace Patio Homes another break.
"I'd have to talk to our collection folks to make sure we're consistent with
what has been done in the past," Weber said.