TAMPA - Lakysha Ellison first welcomed ABC Action News into her East Tampa trailer in early November. She pointed to termite-ravaged walls, a broken shower, uneven floors, and holes around doors and windows that allow bugs and mice inside.
"When you sit in it, it's like you're going to fall," she said, shaking her bathtub back and forth.
Her toilet's surrounded by a steady buzz of gnats.
Despite code violations dating back two decades, Ellison's landlord, Ross Capelliti, kept renting to unsuspecting customers. The majority are low-income families, some with criminal backgrounds, who believed they couldn't find anything better than Greenpark Residences.
After our original story aired on November 9, the city served Capelliti an inspection warrant. It was the first time they've ever used such protocol.
They condemned half of the trailers as unfit for human habitation and gave the residents a week to move, promising up to $1,500 in relocation support.
Yet, six days after the December 6 deadline to vacate, Ellison and her four kids still live inside.
"I have to look in their faces," Ellison said. "This place isn't livable and they're not comfortable."
Ellison says she has no choice. If she leaves, her family will end up homeless like her neighbor, Rhonda Daniels.
"It kept me safe," Daniels said. "It kept me from being raped. It kept me from being robbed."
Daniels obeyed the order to vacate. Her mattress is now propped up against her empty trailer. She's lived on the streets ever since, riding public buses, using public bathrooms, even though the city of Tampa promised to help.
"This is deplorable," said neighborhood activist Pete Johnson. "This is outrageous that people follow the rules and they're out on the street."
Dennis Rogero, Director of Neighborhood Empowerment and Budget, forwarded this statement Wednesday afternoon:
"The City's goal in situations like this is to make sure that every resident has a safe place to live. This owner had many, many opportunities to comply with Code Enforcement. Unfortunately, he chose not to, and that obviously has a detrimental effect on these residents. We will not evict anyone until they have found temporary housing. We are working with each resident to provide them with up to $1,500 to move and find a new home, and have also connected them with other temporary housing through groups like the Salvation Army and Metropolitan Ministries."
Most of the residents found temporary living options with family, but Ellison and Daniels are unique situations.
Daniels doesn't have the paperwork to prove her married name change in order to receive benefits. Ellison says she spoke to housing officials Wednesday, but they told her it would take at least another 10 days.
If Daniels knew her only option would be a homeless shelter, she says she never would have obeyed the Notice to Vacate handed to her by code enforcement. She left her keys inside the trailer and locked it on her way out.
Now, she can't get back in.
"They were telling us we had to get out or else," Daniels said. "I never thought in my life I would go through something like this."
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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