SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – The City of Sarasota responded Tuesday to accusations officials are trying to force a 90-year-old woman out of her home. “That may be the biggest story of them all over the weekend; don’t believe everything you read in Facebook,” City Manager Tom Barwin said.
Marie Louise Sikorski, the widow, told News Channel 8 the city has levied fines against her for code violations, which she can’t pay. We talked with a neighbor who stepped in to help.
“I just had the work done without a licensed contractor even though I knew that was wrong,” the neighbor said. “They said it was a safety issue, but which one is the priority? Is the priority to give the city their $200 for the permit or to get the safety issue fixed right away? I decided to get it fixed and just deal with the consequences later.”
However, city officials said Sikorski’s home had been abandoned for six years. During that time, vagrants moved in and the house fell into disrepair, they told News Channel 8. After finding serious code violations, the city issued fines and held 28 different hearings about the house. They offered options to help, including by providing an interest-free loan, but were apparently rejected.
The city eventually started issuing fines of $250 a day, but officials said they’re willing to work with Sikorski. “Our magistrates here have a solid record of being extremely fair to people and it is not unusual to waive fines,” Barwin said.
Sikorski only moved back in a couple of months ago.
“This was not a case or story of the city picking on a poor elderly widow who’s living in her home,” Barwin said. “This was an abandoned property that was blighting the neighborhood.”
“The city has no interest in taking this property. In fact, by Florida law, the city is prohibited from even taking this property if we wanted to,” he added.
Barwin added that people should avoid jumping to conclusions. “I’m disappointed but I think to some degree social media lends itself to fast reactions and quick judgments, and this is a classic textbook case of how just partial information can be misrepresented and spun,” he said.
Widow responds to city’s side of story
During her six-year absence from the home in question, Sikorski lived in a mobile home elsewhere in the city. But according to documents, she was facing eviction and was forced to move back into her old house.
“The rent kept going from $300 a month to $900 a month. And I thought, ‘That’s ridiculous, when here I had my home and it was paid for,'” Sikorski said.
Sikorski told News Channel 8 she thought the house was in good shape. She also said she doesn’t deserve all these fines.
“I suppose it’s not only me, other people that they’re just picking on. It’s something for them to do,” she said.
Sikorski said no one should be angry with Miles, the neighbor who helped her fix up the home. “There’s no reason for them to be condemning the work that has been done so maybe they’ll get over it,” she said.
Miles said he is more concerned about the future. “I don’t know about those other problems. I wasn’t here for it but now I want to know how we can move forward,” he said. “They can bring up all the rest of the backdrop of the story but right now the house is fixed, and I still don’t know what we should do and the fines are still there.”
The city plans to hold a code enforcement hearing for June 23.
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