and Video Courtesy of The Orlando Sentinel
March 7, 2015
Orange county is stepping up efforts to get residents out of Blossom Park condos, where elevators don't work and stairs and walkways have been deemed in danger of collapse.
At the Blossom Park condominium complex, residents have been warned that stairwells and walkways are on the brink of collapse. At Tymber Skan, vacant buildings are being demolished to drive off squatters and criminals.
The two distressed condo complexes have been getting plenty of attention from Orange County government lately, as officials struggle with how to protect residents from extreme safety hazards.
And the complexes have a common link: They're in receivership, and the court-appointed receiver for both is Frank Paul Barber, a Seminole County property manager.
The role of a receiver is to act as a court-appointed guardian to maintain a financially troubled property. But people at both complexes complain about how Barber has gone about it.
Orange taxpayers have a growing stake in how events play out.
The county has spent about $190,000 at Tymber Skan to repave roads and board up vacant units. At Blossom Park, the county estimates the cost of relocating residents will exceed $260,000. In the meantime, a
fire-truck has been at the complex 24 hours a day for the past month, at a cost of $4,000 a day.
|Barber has drawn the ire of county officials for what they see as prolonged inaction in dealing with deteriorating conditions, particularly at Blossom Park.
"He's been the receiver at Blossom for five years, and he's not made any meaningful repairs," Orange code-enforcement manager Bob Spivey said.
"The record is the record. We're not getting anywhere. The fines are accruing."
Barber acknowledged "constant problems," but said he's constrained by cash flow. He notes that many residents are on a fixed income, and "money is always tight."
"I'm upset too; I'm sorry this is happening," he said. "We've tried to keep up the property the best we could."
And as for the firetruck, "I don't know why the firetruck is there," he said. "What they're doing with that $4,000, I've got no control over that."
According to Barber's 2014 year-end report for Blossom Park, the condo association had net income of minus-$2,293.27, after expenses.
Utilities are the single biggest expense, costing $556,091 in 2014, or 52 percent of total expenses. Maintenance came in second at $249,829, or 23 percent.
Barber said he gets $2,000 a month for his work at Blossom Park, and currently isn't getting anything from Tymber
County documents show Barber's court appointment as receiver actually lapsed in May 2013, and wasn't renewed for over a year. Judge Margaret Schreiber retroactively re-appointed him effective Dec. 16, 2014. His term now expires in May of this year.
Barber also failed to file the required monthly financial statements over a three-year span, according to the county.
Barber conceded, "It's been a problem; there's a lot of work involved."
But it's not the first time he has had trouble with financial disclosure. His receivership of Sandlake Courtyard Condominium Association was terminated by a judge in November 2013, and a judgment of $34,333.75 was entered against him.
According to a memo from the Orange County Attorney's office, "Allegations were made that Mr. Barber failed to provide monthly financial reports during 2012, he paid himself and agents fees that exceeded what is considered customary, he failed to post the required surety bond, and he paid a $480 Christmas bonus to an employee with the Associations' money."
Barber defended his work for Sandlake as proper, blaming the judge's ruling on "inadequate counsel."
At Blossom Park, Barber is seeking a special assessment of $2,400 per unit for the repairs needed to make the buildings safe. At 345 units, that would be a total cost of $828,000.
But some owners are leery of paying up, given what they see as his poor track record.
Lucy Blahy of Jacksonville has owned a Blossom Park condo for five years, about the same length of time that Barber has had oversight of the property.
"He always says he doesn't need to give any satisfaction to us because he is the court-appointed receiver," she said. "He is the authority here; he always puts it that way. How can we trust to give him money right now?"
Larry Agosto and his family have owned a unit for a decade; he's frustrated by ongoing maintenance problems too.
"It's been more than a year that he's had a paper on the elevator saying it's under repair," Agosto said. "We haven't seen any changes on anything."
Orlando attorney Denise Dell-Powell's practice involves receivership cases, which were widespread in Florida after the housing bubble burst. She said receivership can be compared to dealing with a long-neglected home.
"If you made no repairs to your house for five years, then someone buys your house, they're already behind the eight ball," she said. "That's the position the receiver finds himself in."
It's not uncommon, she said, for receivers of blighted properties to have trouble keeping them going. After paying for routine expenses, sometimes there's nothing left to deal with ongoing structural problems.
"If he's not getting enough money to pay for these capital improvements, his hands are tied," she said of Barber. "And so it's a very tough situation."
According to code-enforcement manager Spivey, about 75 percent of units are paying into the association each month at Blossom Park. At Tymber
Skan, it's just 15 percent.
County officials are expecting a final engineering report on Blossom Park's stairs, landings and walkways this week. If it finds the buildings to be uninhabitable, there may be no option but to remove all residents. That would raise the estimated costs for resident relocation to $565,500.
But Barber is optimistic that things will turn around. Depending on how many owners pay their special assessments, he hopes to have repairs well under way in the next month.
"I've got a handle on what needs to be done," he said, "and a plan to do it."