Evicted Diamond Shores renters may have a glimmer of hope

Residents of Diamond Shores mobile-home park may not be packing their bags.

Eviction notices by the majority owners of the park may be stayed after county officials met with renters Feb. 21.

Commissioner Donna Fiala, along with county staff, met with 20 renters to see what could be done to stop mandatory evictions by Feb. 28.

Katherine Lawler, former park manager and renter, said that if the owners will turn over ownership of the trailers to the renters, the county will suspend any further fines and look at reducing fines that have accumulated over continual code violations.

The park is five miles north of Marco Island on Port au Prince Road.

Fiala asked the county attorney's office to contact the owners to meet with staff officials on turning over ownership to tenants. If the owners agree, the county will give the tenants six months to fix up their trailers.

Owners Al Bottino, a part-time Marco Island resident, and David Steinberg of North Carolina sent out the eviction notices. The notices came after continual fines were levied against the owners for Collier County code violations.

The last straw, residents say, came when code enforcement officers earlier this month recorded many violations for fines that will amount to thousands of dollars.

Residents say Bottino's fines alone total more than $200,000.

"I don't want to talk to the press anymore because they twist it around," Bottino said when contacted.

Bottino has claimed the county has a vendetta against him, dating back to 2003 when he failed to file proper rental information documents. He was fined $11,000. He said he won an appeal on an additional $11,000 in fines.

In June 2005, in what Bottino called an illegal sweep of his units, code enforcement officers found several violations in 10 of his units and several of Steinberg's units.

Code enforcement officers denied Bottino's allegations. In a code enforcement hearing Sept.

Diamond Shores Affordable Housing Community renter Kristina Miller, with 4-year-old son Gregory, carried signs protesting actions taken by Collier County Code Enforcement that residents say is forcing the close of the mobile home park. Some signs were aimed at county Commissioner Donna Fiala who represents their area. They and an employee of the major owners of the park carried signs near the county administrative building in Naples on Feb. 15.

Photo by ROGER LALONDE, Marco Eagle

Diamond Shores Affordable Housing Community renter Kristina Miller, with 4-year-old son Gregory, carried signs protesting actions taken by Collier County Code Enforcement that residents say is forcing the close of the mobile home park. Some signs were aimed at county Commissioner Donna Fiala who represents their area. They and an employee of the major owners of the park carried signs near the county administrative building in Naples on Feb. 15.

2, special master Brenda Garretson ordered Bottino to fix the violations by Sept. 9 or be fined $250 a day on each unit.

Not all units were repaired to code, and fines started to mount.

Garretson again looked at continued violations in October and raised the fine to $1,000 a day for each unit.

With the latest round of violation citations, Bottino and Steinberg decided to evict renters because they couldn't afford to fix the mobile homes.

Owners' attorney Anthony Pires wrote the county to notify officials that all month-to-month rental agreements were being terminated. He said the fines being accrued were making selling the property more difficult.

Katherine Lawler, former manager for Bottino's properties, said he had made efforts to repair homes, but couldn't keep up with the violations.

Willie Cabada, a Bottino employee working on repairs, and renter Kristina Miller, with her 4-year-old son Gregory, carried signs in protest of the county and Fiala near the Collier administrative building in Naples on Feb. 15.

Miller said the signs were aimed at Fiala because she made a remark in a newspaper about having the park turned into affordable housing. Fiala said she made her remarks on using the property for affordable housing if the park closed.

Miller, also a former rental manager for Bottino, said she and others have worked arrangements in the past where Bottino credited their rent if they fixed their own units.

Fiala said that if the park owners had kept up their properties, the county wouldn't have handed out code violations.

"The county has the responsibility to make sure people live in safe, decent homes," Fiala said.

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