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Neighbor racked up code violations for years, fined only $200 by county

Junk cars, old RVs, and debris repeatedly cited
Leonardo Salemi and Adam Ballic
Posted at 4:39 PM, May 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-18 17:30:48-04

LUTZ, Fla. — EDITOR'S CORRECTION:
An earlier version of this report incorrectly reported that Traci Siolka-Salemi was arrested for vandalism and that the charge was reduced to a civil fine.  In fact, she was not arrested.  Court records show she was charged with criminal mischief under $200 and was acquitted of the charge in a non-jury trial. She was not ordered to pay a fine.  ABC Action News apologizes for the error.

ORIGINAL STORY:

An illegal junkyard, a never-ending construction project, and a heated dispute over property lines can be a homeowners' worst nightmare.

The I-Team has learned a Lutz property owner has been cited for repeated code violations since 2015, but the county has only imposed minimum fines. In some cases, code enforcement officers even identified old cars and other junk stored on county-owned property.

“A constant nightmare”

“This is all day, every day for years,” said Lutz homeowner Adam Balic.

He’s describing the construction project going on at his neighbor’s property that he called, "a constant nightmare."

“It’s like living next to an industrial park with lots of yelling and screaming and Bobcats. It’s a non-stop construction zone,” he said.

Balic said his neighbors, Leonardo Salemi and his wife Traci Siolka-Salemi, are at the center of it all. Problems started seven years ago when Salemi claimed Balic’s driveway crossed onto his property.

Junk cars at a home in Lutz, Florida
Junk cars at a home in Lutz, Florida.

“This was all platted in 1977 you can’t just change it. I have the plat book survey, I have a 2013 survey,” Balic said.

A 2013 survey showed Balic’s driveway on his own property. But Salemi began marking what he believes is his property line with stakes, concrete blocks, and rocks.

“So what, my wife wants to put some rocks here?” Salemi told Balic during an ABC Action News I-Team visit to the property recently.

He said the stones served a purpose for his wife.

“For her, they’re decorative. Maybe she likes these stones here. But you’re gonna be a little petty baby!” Salemi shouted at Balic.

Balic previously served as a pastor.

“He’s the expert. He’s mister Christian. He’s mister Bible thumper,” Salemi said.

But Balic believed Salemi would test even Job’s patience.

Spray-painted driveway, pushed-over mailbox and other encounters caught on video

Aerial photos from Hillsborough County show Salemi accumulated old cars, RVs, and other junk after buying the home in 2006. His fence line grew from back to front, using an assortment of materials to create a divide near Balic’s driveway.

Security camera footage from 2015 showed Salemi spraypainting Balic’s driveway and pushing over Balic’s mailbox with his SUV. That prompted Balic to record future encounters on his cell phone.

“I’m right here Adam. And you’re nothing but a coward. You’ve always been a coward,” Salemi said in one of the videos. “You’re a little baby Adam. That’s all you are. “

Car parts accumulated in the yard of a Lutz home
Car parts accumulated in the yard of a Lutz home

Balic sought a protection order six years ago, but it was denied by a judge.

“You see big trucks coming in and out with junk crashed cars,” Balic said.

More than a dozen code enforcement visits, only a $200 fine

Records showed code enforcement officers have visited the property more than a dozen times, even using taxpayer money for a helicopter inspection when Salemi wouldn’t allow officers to enter his backyard.

In one report obtained by the I-Team, a code enforcement officer wrote to a sheriff’s deputy, “The owner Mr. Salemi has a history of being angry and problematic… We may want you to accompany us to meet with him.”

The case files prepared by the county included pictures of junk cars, old RVs, and untagged vehicles.

Florida Secretary of State records showed Salemi’s business “Muscle Car Surgeons” is listed at the same address, which is zoned only for residential use.

“I’m not running a salvage operation,” Salemi told the I-Team. “It’s stuff I’ve had in storage, ok. And I’ve lost my storage and I had to move things around.“

While he could have faced fines of up to $500 per day for violations, records showed Salemi has only been fined $200 and was found to be in compliance in February.

“The irony is that some code enforcement person signed off and said they went and looked at the back yard and everything was perfect,” Balic said.

Salemi has also been cited for construction debris, starting in 2018, for stacking concrete blocks up to 10 feet high and not having the required permits to build an addition. Records showed the county issued a permit for a garage and bedroom addition last year.

“I have permits for everything I’m doing here. Sorry it’s been taking such a long time,” Salemi said.

He told the I-Team the project was delayed by a personal illness and an inability to hire workers because of the pandemic. Salemi believes Balic is calling the county to complain because he is jealous of his new addition.

“I’m adding on. My house is gonna create more value for this neighborhood,” Salemi said.

“I want to sell my house and move. How can I sell it when I have this?" Balic said. “I know it doesn’t bother the people in the county because they don’t live next door to this.”

“All violations have been brought into compliance”

The ABC Action News I-Team contacted Hillsborough County Code Enforcement, asking why the property had received such a minimal fine after being cited so many times.

The agency sent the following statement:

Code Enforcement works to resolve citizen complaints and bring offending properties into compliance, a process that typically involves education, inspections, and sometimes fines. Fines can be increased for property owners who repeatedly violate the same code provision, but the complaints related to this property have involved different provisions, and all violations have been brought into compliance. The last complaint against the property was filed in late 2020; it has since been resolved and there are no current complaints for Code Enforcement to investigate. The building materials in the front yard are permissible because the property has a valid building permit, and materials to be used in a construction project with a valid permit are allowed to be stored on site.

A review of code enforcement records showed the same code provisions were violated repeatedly, including inoperable vehicles (2015, 2017 and 2020), exceeding allowable recreational vehicles (2015, 2016 and 2020), Zoning violations (2015 and 2020) and accumulations of junk, trash, debris, and old tires (2015 and 2020).

Some of the violations took several months and multiple visits by code enforcement officers before there was a resolution.

If you have a story you think the I-Team should investigate, email us at adam@abcactionnews.com