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Families in an East Naples mobile home park living with uncertainty -- move, rebuild, or eviction

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A code violation notice posted at Harmony Shores trailer park in East Naples says "all construction activity shall stop immediately". Residents there say they're fearful of being forced out of their homes.

Residents at a storm-damaged mobile home park in East Naples worry their landlord will take advantage of Hurricane Ian’s destruction and try to force them out of their homes.

Families at the Harmony Shores trailer park say they’re living in limbo – continuing to stay in unsafe homes and unsure if they’ll be able to rebuild.

All that Helen Rodriguez has left in the world can fit in the corner of a bedroom in her home at a waterfront trailer park in East Naples.

Hurricane Ian sent about three feet of polluted water into her house, on one of the narrow streets of this neighborhood that dozens of immigrant families call home.

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Kate Payne
/
Special to WGCU
Helen Rodriguez says nearly everything she owns was ruined, after Hurricane Ian sent about three feet of water into her home at the Harmony Shores trailer park.

Rodriguez says she and her husband Jose are still living in their storm-ravaged home – sleeping on a water-damaged mattress she tried to dry in the sun.

“I’m sleeping on my old mattress because I don't have [any]where to sleep,” Rodriguez said. “So I put it out in the sun for three days. And every day I use it, I put plastic over it and we sleep there.”

The mattress is stacked on a blue tarp, tucked inside her enclosed porch. Rodriguez says it’s no longer safe for her elderly mother to sleep in the home; she’s able to stay with friends for now.

On Oct. 2, four days after Hurricane Ian hit, Cove Communities – the company that owns Harmony Shores – issued residents a notice of an order to vacate the property, warning that “no trespassing” would be allowed.

According to a copy of the notice that was shared with WLRN, the company said the condition of the park “constitutes a clear and imminent danger to the life or health of occupants or other persons, and that protection of life or health requires vacating the premises”.

A spokesperson for the company has since told WLRN that the notice was issued “in error.” But residents say they took the order seriously and say they’re fearful of being forced out.

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Kate Payne
/
Special to WGCU
Harmony Shores trailer park resident Blanca Iris Culex says she's worried the landlord may force families out of their homes, after the company issued notice of an order to vacate, days after Hurricane Ian made landfall.

Blanca Iris Culex says she and her family have lived in the neighborhood since 2014. Even before the storm, she says the park's management company was trying to buy residents out.

“Apparently, this was the opportunity for them to kick us out,” Culex said. “We know that it's not the safest thing to do right now to stay. But a lot of people don't have anywhere to go.”

Cluex says many of the residents of Harmony Shores own their trailers – but they pay rent for the land their homes sit on, which is owned by Cove Communities, an international real estate company based in Phoenix, AZ.

Culex and Rodriguez say they’re not going anywhere – until they’re paid a fair price for their homes. Culex says her family paid $35,000; Rodriguez says hers cost $10,000.

“For me, we have to fight for the fair payment,” Rodriguez said. “This is the only thing we need to get.”

Joyce Mireault, head of community relations for Cove, says the company has no intention of forcing residents out and that they have “every right to stay in their home”.

But a code violation notice posted at the park by Collier County officials says residents aren’t allowed to do any construction, leaving them with few options to stabilize their homes.

According to Florida law, violation of a local ordinance may constitute grounds for a landlord to evict mobile home residents, if the violation is “detrimental to the health, safety, or welfare of other residents.”

WLRN