Photo: Douglas R. Clifford
“The first phone call last November confused real estate agent Jason Papi. Why, the angry stranger wanted to know, did Papi submit a code complaint against his home?
The second call, weeks later, was jarring. Papi’s team leader with Keller Williams Realty asked if he had maliciously squashed a colleague’s sale by submitting the same type of complaint to the city of Tampa.
Days later, there was a third call. Another stranger spewed profanity.
‘I didn’t know what they were talking about,’ Papi said. He went looking for answers and describes what he discovered as alarming.
Someone, Papi alleges, has been fraudulently filing complaints under his name through the city of Tampa’s website.
City records show that from Oct. 5 through March 27, “Jason Papi” made at least 50 complaints against 48 homes owned by 44 different property owners. Each had enough information for the city to investigate the claims.
‘I did not make a single one of those,’ said Papi…
Each code complaint was reported to the city through its online portal. They were typically for work done without permits, prompting investigations of the homes by the construction services department that oversees such violations.
The properties span Port Tampa to the Busch Gardens neighborhood — and most of the homes turned out to have legitimate violations.
Twenty-seven of the investigations have been closed and, of those, at least 18 concluded that there was a problem. At least three had violations for work completed years earlier by a previous owner.
At least 44 of the properties were for sale or rent — or recently sold or rented — at the time of the complaint. At least 28 are owned by investment property companies…
How to stop complaints?
On Feb. 7, Papi sent a letter to the city maintaining that he was not behind the slew of complaints. In November, according to the letter, he called the Code Enforcement Department and asked that it stop taking complaints in his name. The letter reiterated the request.
‘I fear that a disgruntled individual will show up to my home one day to harm myself, my wife, or our dog,’Papi wrote. “We would like to live our lives in peace and work on starting our own family once we feel safe in our own home again.
City spokesperson Adam Smith said that since the letter was received any code complaints bearing Papi’s name would have to be made via notarized letter. But city records show that one for a dilapidated fence was submitted via the code enforcement website on March 27. It prompted an investigation without a notarized letter.
Smith said that 12 complaints made in Papi’s name since Feb. 7 have been dismissed without an investigation because they were submitted online.
Looking through Tampa code enforcement records from the last year, the Tampa Bay Times identified two possible fraudulent names.
From Sept. 12 through Oct. 6, ‘Isaac Booth’ made at least 25 complaints via email spanning the city and mostly against investment properties. When the Times sent a message to the email address listed on the complaints, it bounced back. And, according to the property manager of his listed residence, no one by that name has ever lived there.
From April 12 through May 15, ‘Louis Hernandez; made at least 13 similar complaints through a mix of email and the city’s website. But the home address listed was for rent during that period, according to its property manager’s website. The property manager did not respond to a Times call. There was no reply to a message sent to the listed email…
According to Magill, it looks like someone is combing through online real estate listings, comparing current photos to those from past listings and looking for changes, then checking to see if permits were pulled for that work — public information available through the city’s website.
‘How else would they know what work was done inside the house?’ Magill said.
Of the complaints made in Papi’s name, at least 21 include interior work and some of those reference a Zillow listing. Whoever is behind them, Magill said, she estimates it took the complainant 15 minutes to acquire the information.
‘It’s pretty easy,” she said. ‘All it takes is a computer and some time…'”
— Paul Guzzo, Tampa Bay Times”