TAMPA - She's walked up the steps to her West Tampa home for almost 60 years, but it's a walk that's now much harder for 71-year-old Ellen McClennan.
"It's a mess," she sighed.
A toilet and sink now stand where she used to sleep. Abandoned construction materials litter her kitchen.
It's all surrounded by rotting walls she paid thousands of dollars to have fixed.
"I'm hurt," McClennan said. "I'm really hurt."
McClennan took out a reverse mortgage to pay $15,000 for a long list of repair work with Jeffers Construction, LLC.
The contract, signed by Gary Jeffers, included work that had an imminent deadline, since the house had recently fallen under code violation for rotting wood and chipped paint.
"He said, 'Well, I'll work with you,'" McClennan remembered. "He tore all that out. He placed nothing back. He wanted more money."
So, she gave him more money, and then McClennan says Jeffers gave her another excuse.
"He claimed the equipment he had was broken," she said. "He couldn't do anything else. He left."
Her neighbor, Pete Johnson, noticed McClennan's case kept coming up at city code enforcement meetings. Month after month, McClennan's had to show up to defend herself. According to Johnson, the available city programs have refused McClennan's case because her house is too far gone.
"A contractor just took advantage of this lady and walked off the job," Johnson said. "Yes, the house is probably beyond repair, but to drag this poor lady down to code enforcement once a month for a hearing, there's no sense in it."
Just like before she hired Jeffers, McClennan's still violating code, but now she's run out of money to fix it.
ABC Action News contacted Tampa Police on her behalf. We also tracked Jeffers to an inactive license and a vacant Tampa home.
"I just want to get back in my house. That's all I want to do," she said. "I've been in this house since I was 12-years-old. I raised my daughter in this house, so it means a lot to me."
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