City of Tampa plans to tear down ‘Animal House’ after Better Call Behnken investigation

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Della Chatman needs boots, and a machete, to check out the backyard of the abandoned home next door. The home has been empty for 20 years.

Chatman wants the house, on Hyacinth Avenue in Tampa, torn down. The weeds, nearly as tall she is, are one thing but now there are raccoons too. She has pictures of raccoons on the neighbor’s roof and fence, and they’ve even come to her house, eating through the roof.

“I barbecue, and they come outside, like, ‘What’s up?'” she said.

Neighborhood cats have also taken up residence.

Chatman and neighbor Judy Wilson have complained to code enforcement for 20 years. Not much has happened, other than lawn mowing every now and then. The owner on record lives out of town and code enforcement explains that it is a family member of the owner who passed away. Fines have been issued, but the house remains the same.

Wilson lives on the other side of the abandoned home. Her own lawn looks like a nature park, and she is fed up with the mess – and the animals – next door.

“It brings down the value of the whole neighborhood,” Wilson said.

So the women called 8 On Your Side’s Better Call Behnken for answers.

Within hours of a call from 8 On Your Side, code enforcement officers were on the property. The head of Tampa’s Code Enforcement department, Sal Ruggerio, showed up and said officers found the home’s back door wide open. They took pictures of mold, trash and the ceiling caving in. Ruggerio said the property is unstable, and he is moving forward with plans to demolish the home.

The demolition will have to be approved by a city board. Ruggerio said code enforcement has tried to help neighbors by citing the owner multiple times since 1991. Records indicate the owner is not interested in taking care of the property. But you can’t tear down a home because there are weeds in the yard, he said. The owner has been fined and the city has mowed the lawn periodically throughout the years and tacked the charges onto the owner’s bill. Now, though, the situation is too bad, and the home must come down, Ruggerio said.

“I am confident this is a good case for demolition,” Ruggerio said. “I think it will be coming down with 30 to 90 days.”

The city would then try to get compensated for the cost of the demolition by putting a lien on the property. If the land ever sells, the lien would have to be satisfied.

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