St. Petersburg: Nuisance landlord virtually untouchable

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - St. Petersburg Nuisance Abatement officers are working on their latest case against a landlord they call a chronic problem.

Michael Shimshoni, a self-avowed real estate broker who runs Affordable Realty, denies owning any property other than a home in Tierra Verde valued at almost $500,000.

However, the city connects him to more than 120 properties, and one-fifth of the nuisance fines collected since they began tracking Shimshoni in 1997, totaling $41,667.

"One person is responsible for paying 20% of the fines and costs the city has collected," explained St. Petersburg Nuisance Abatement Coordinator Elizabeth Ledbetter. "Twenty-percent of all nuisance abatement costs and fines.

According to Ledbetter and city records, Shimshoni's companies own notoriously blighted properties like the Mosley Motel, which faced closure in 2011 for consistently blatant drug activity, as well as the Kenwood Village Inn, where two people died in December 2012 after an early morning armed robbery during a card game.

The latest complaints come from a neighbor beside a residential property at 1075 17th Avenue North.

Rich Meeker bought his house next door to the apartment homes about three years ago. Immediately, he says he noticed regular drug activity, like a drive-thru for controlled substances.

He began asking neighbors about it, and says he soon learned they referred to it as the "crack house."  Since then, Meeker has called police, code enforcement, even Mayor Bill Foster, in order to try to solve the problem without selling his home.

"I'm spending hours upon hours every week trying to find a solution to this problem," he explained. "There are tenants doing anything you wouldn't want around a family."

A quick search of Pinellas County Jail history shows a half-dozen tenant arrests since Meeker moved in next door. Crimes range from battery to drugs to child abuse to burglary.

Shimshoni admits to managing the property beside Meeker, but says he's not aware of any issues. He calls Meeker a lunatic with an agenda.

"Best of my knowledge there's no problem with the property," Shimshoni said. "I've done more and above than average property manager would do."

Shimshoni claims he runs background checks on tenants, and wouldn't allow anyone with a criminal history like the ones ABC Action News discovered.

He also denies owning the 120 properties the city links to him, including the Mosley Motel and Kenwood Village Inn.

"They say whatever they want to say," Shimshoni said. "They don't document."

According to Ledbetter, Shimshoni is well-known for nuisance problems, but often slips through the system because he transfers properties to different ownership companies he creates, from which he legally distances himself.

"So, our problem is, when he changes ownership, it puts us back to square zero," Ledbetter said. "He knows how to play the game, and he has an attorney who helps him play the game."

Meeker plans to sell his home, and blames Shimshoni for ruining his dreams of raising a family in St. Petersburg. He's not sure how he'll convince a buyer to take it, though, because he plans to be honest about the neighbors next door.

"I don't know. I've got no clue, but I've got to, for the sake of my family," he said. "You take your life savings to put a down payment on a house and you've got to walk away from it because you don't have any other options."

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