Residents fear water shut-off at Temple Terrace Patio Homes

Article Courtesy of The Tampa Bay Times

By Philip Morgan

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 water off.


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 payments.

"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 condominium complex.

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 noted.

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 escalated.

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 progress.

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 $1,800 assessment.

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.