Homestead property owner hit with 13-year-old utility bill belonging to previous owner

(WSVN) - A South Florida landlord is livid after she was hit with a 13-year-old utility bill! Feeling powerless in more ways than one, she reached out to 7 Investigates for help. Here’s the Nightteam’s Kevin Ozebek.

Gladys Chern bought this Homestead house to rent out thinking it would be a money maker.

Gladys Chern: “It has a lot of potential.”

But this month, her reliable tenant of seven years decided to move out, and as standard procedure, the tenant had the power turned off.

Gladys wanted a fresh coat of paint on the walls and everything in tip-top shape, so the home could be rented quickly, but there is a huge problem.

Gladys Chern: “None of the lights turn on.”

Gladys does not have power restored to the home.

Gladys Chern: “I don’t know if the stove works. I don’t know if the refrigerator works. I don’t know if the house is safe.”

And with no AC or working ceiling fans, she is worried about this mold she sees in one of the bathrooms.

Gladys Chern: “It develops very quickly, mold, in this climate by the day.”

After Gladys tried to get the power restored in her name, she received this email from Homestead Public Services saying she needs to pay a “previous owner balance of $852.99.”

Kevin Ozebek: “What was your initial reaction when you read that email?”

Gladys Chern: “Shock, fear, frustration.”

She reached out to city hall for clarification.

Gladys Chern: “I called to make inquiries, and the first girl told me that this past due balance was dated back to 2008.”

That made Gladys even more frustrated.

When she bought the house in 2014, the unpaid power bill never popped up in a lien search.

Gladys Chern: “I cannot sleep at night because I feel it is so unfair. Something 13 years ago that I had nothing to do with, and they want money from me?”

Gladys believes the law is on her side.

A Florida statute says, “No municipality may refuse services … to the owner of any rental unit … for nonpayment of service charges incurred by a former occupant…”

But, despite her push to get the power on, Gladys received this voicemail from a city employee.

Voicemail: “We are just calling to inform you that, unfortunately, a previous owner balance does remain as a lien on the property, and until it’s paid, we cannot turn on services.”

Gladys Chern: “That’s why I reached out to you guys because I feel I am up against a wall.”

After we met Gladys, we reached out to Homestead City Hall.

We wanted to know why she was hit with this $852 power bill now.

Shortly after we requested an interview, Gladys received a call from the city.

Gladys Chern: “The lights came on! It felt like the house came back to life.”

Gladys was told she no longer owes the money.

A city spokesperson tells us, “By ordinance, Homestead Public Services must collect past due balances on a property before opening a new account. Upon review of the account balance and age, the past due balance has been forwarded to collections against the previous owner…”

Kevin Ozebek: “How do you feel now?”

Gladys Chern: “Free again! Liberated! I believe it was just your help, honestly. I am so grateful.”

And now with the lights on, fans spinning and appliances running, Gladys can get this house ready for the next renter.

CONTACT 7INVESTIGATES:
305-627-CLUE
954-921-CLUE
clue@wsvn.com

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