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Residents of Bonita Springs RV and mobile home park chased away as new owner takes over

Rhetta McEntyre and her husband Chucky have found themselves living on the side of a road in North Fort Myers after having two days to get out of the Gulf Coast Camping Resort in Bonita Springs. They have bounced around from place to place over the past month and are just waiting for the knock on the door telling they have to move once again. They are have a lead on a few spots up near Jacksonville. McEntyre said she doesn’t ever want to come back to this area.
Andrea Melendez
/
WGCU
Rhetta McEntyre and her husband Chucky have found themselves living on the side of a road in North Fort Myers after having two days to get out of the Gulf Coast Camping Resort in Bonita Springs. They have bounced around from place to place over the past month and are just waiting for the knock on the door telling they have to move once again. They are have a lead on a few spots up near Jacksonville. McEntyre said she doesn’t ever want to come back to this area.

Finding a site to place an RV or camper at this time of year in Southwest Florida has always been a struggle. Add to that the number of RV and mobile home parks that were decimated by Hurricane Ian and the result is those that remain are packed.

Not so in Bonita Springs.

Gulf Coast Camping Resort right now looks like it’s in the throes of the summer doldrums and not the height of tourist season in Southwest Florida.

Noticeably absent are people tooling around on golf carts, walking dogs, or sitting outside enjoying the pleasant winter weather.

These days there’s only a handful of renters left at the once-bustling RV and mobile home park.

The seasonal residents who rented some 120 plots were told not to come back after new owners took over in late October. And those renters already here when the $5 million sale went through along with the year-around rental residents, were charged immediate, steep increases in rent. Then, days later, they were simply told to get out.

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Unofficially, their deadline to leave was December 31.

As of Jan. 5, most are gone.

“Everybody got scared and left,” said Peter Rossignol.

Rossignol is 65. He moved here about 9 months ago. Others had places to go, he said.

“I do not, … you know, this is my home. I'm not a snowbird, it’s my residence,” he said.

Rossignol is on disability. He’s a former landlord and says he know his rights.

He says he plans to stay at the park until someone official such as sheriff’s deputy or a judge tells him otherwise.

The park’s new owner is Ralph Principe of Palm Beach County. Several people have told WGCU reporters that Principe now wants even more money -- $75 per day -- from the remaining hold-outs.

PREVIOUS STORY: New owner at Bonita Springs RV park spraking stress

“He decided he's going to do $75 a day just to get us out of here quickly,” Rossignol suspects.

That’s more than $2,200 a month for a small concrete plot and hook-ups for Rossignol’s trailer.

Most of the now-former residents who spoke with WGCU News said they paid about $4,000 for the season.

“[There’s] no place to go. Every Park is full. Unless I want to go to all the way to Labelle and take my wife out of work and drive up to a place that doesn't have any work. I'm not doing that. There'll be some things available in April,” Rossignol said.

Rossignol said he knows of three other renters who intend to fight it out and stay as long as they can.

John Potts, a former long-time renter, is also bracing for a fight.

He’s a veteran and turned 81 on Christmas Day.

“They're making my life more miserable,” Potts said. “…Their whole thing is just to hurt people.”

Aside from the few hold-out renters, others are living on privately owned parcels. There are 80 such parcels. Potts is now an owner after purchasing his neighbor’s plot and RV. But he’s not yet in the clear. He’s trying to sell the modular home on the land he rented all those winters.

And like Rossignol, Potts said he has been told he’ll owe $75 a day for each day that home is there beyond the December 31 deadline.

“Yeah. I'm just tongue tied,” he said. “They don't care if you're 90 or 100. They don't care about family. I'm not gonna say what I'm thinking in my mind. (I hope) the wrath of God comes down and strikes them as hard as he can. You know, it's just horrible.”

Not all who have left have a new place to call home.

Rhetta and Chuckie McEntyre thought they found paradise two years ago when they said good-bye to their rural North Carolina and hello to stationary RV living in Florida.

The couple rented a plot for $650 a month and bought an RV from the former owner. The fee fit their modest budget as Rhetta is disabled and Chuckie collects and sells scrap metal among other things.

Like everyone else renting at the RV and mobile home park, they were chased away.

“It’s hard,” Rhetta McEntyre said. “[It’s] really hard to get treated like we were treated. I don’t understand. I really don’t.”

They tried to take shelter in the RV in a Big Lots parking lot. They were chased away. The same thing happened at Walmart. They thought they could blend in with the road-weary travelers at a rest stop along the interstate. That lasted two days before they were told by state troopers to be on their way.

So, they’ve been squatting on borrowed time along the frontage road of a Southwest Florida truck stop for about two weeks now. They’re trying to not be noticeable.

The RV pop-outs have been pulled in, dwarfing the already cramped space. The blinds are drawn. The doggy door is blocked minimizing any clue anyone’s inside.

Fear consumes Rhetta McEntyre the moment her husband leaves for work: “I never know when someone is going to knock on that door and tell me to leave. I never know.”

Her voice is strained from crying. “It's hard. It’s really hard to get treated like we were treated. He's kicking people out. They have nowhere to go.”

In mid-December, a FEMA representative confirmed that they’d been out to survey the land at Gulf Coast Camping Resort.

A spokesman later said he was not at liberty to provide updates or details if a deal was in the works. He said matters relating to where trailers would go is “personal and private information.”

WGCU will continue pursuing the rights of the current and former residents. The station's reporting has been forwarded to the Florida Attorney General’s Office.

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