A Tampa couple came home from an outing on Tuesday to find the power in their apartment was still out, and their landlord had entered and dumped hundreds of dollars in food that was stored with ice blocks in the freezer.
“It feels like they violated our trust, they violated our privacy,’ said Karla Infanzon.
The case raises questions about what landlords are allowed to do to protect their property when millions of tenants fled Hurricane Irma and the power outages that followed.
“They said corporate policy stated that they were allowed to go into our place and toss our stuff to protect their fridge – or whatever,” said Karla’s live-in boyfriend Brandon Shutter.
The couple said they returned to their apartment in the Visconti complex on North Leamins Boulevard to find a note taped to their apartment door.
Landlord Tonti Properties said it was entering apartments to empty tenants' refrigerators for health safety reasons and to avoid damage from food spoilage to their refrigerators.
Tonti’s corporate office released a statement to News 10 that said that clearing refrigerators after a hurricane is considered a “best practice” by the National Apartment Association and that “…the vast majority (of residents) have expressed gratitude to our staff.”
Tampa attorney Michael Owens, an expert on tenant law, said landlords may have the right to enter an apartment without the required notice in an emergency.
But he says entering two days after a storm has passed, to look for spoiled food, is legally questionable.
After reviewing the couple’s lease, News 10 asked if he thought the landlord was acting within its rights.
“I don’t think so,” Owens said.
Owens says landlords often believe they have the right to enter an apartment because the property belongs to them.
But he says throwing out a tenant’s personal property, including food, raises the violation to a whole new level.
Karla and Brandon have asked Tonti's to reimburse them for the $500 in lost food.
Todd Usher from the National Apartment Association sent 10Investigates the following statement:
"That is not advice we would provide to our members. We ask that our members be patient and work with their residents to make the recovery process as easy as possible for everyone."
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