VENICE, Fla. — Nearly a month after Hurricane Ian blew through Florida, some people in Sarasota County still aren't able to return home.
People who live at Ramblers Rest RV Resort in Venice say the site still has downed trees and no power or water. More than a dozen full and part-time residents of the park reached out to 10 Tampa Bay this week to express frustrations over what they felt was a lack of effort by the property's management company to restore the property in a timely manner.
Adding to their grievances, they say the park's management company and/or ownership have not provided them with any information as to when they can expect power and water to be restored.
However, the RV resort said that's not the case. To begin, the company claims it offers a vacation destination for guests in park models and recreation vehicles to stay.
In a statement, Ramblers Rest RV resort said, "we have taken an all-hands-on-deck approach to the storm remediation, including having representatives at the property manager, district manager and senior vice president levels on site each day to assist customers and oversee the cleanup project and the numerous contractors on site."
Neighbors argue that if representatives are on site each day, they have not been identified or made themselves available.
Ramblers Rest is owned by Encore RV Resorts, a subsidiary of Equity LifeStyles Properties (ELS) based in Chicago. According to ELS's website, the company "owns or has controlling interest in more than 400 communities and resorts in 35 states and British Columbia with more than 165,000 sites."
"We are all facing an awful lot of neglect in this park," part-time resident Larry Bennett said. "There is just no priority to get us electricity back here, or water here, there's no sewer here."
Hurricane Ian left a hefty backlog of work to be done in Sarasota County, and Ramblers Rest sits in one of the hardest hit areas. Sitting along the Myakka River, the park saw several feet of flooding during and directly after the storm.
People we spoke with are generally understanding that the work may take time but say the lack of communication from management is unacceptable.
"We've just been left high and dry with no information," Bennett said. "No emails, no phone calls, nothing."
Full-time resident Gail Furseth said, "There's been no communication about when we're going to have water when we're going to have sewer, and more importantly when are we going to have electricity so we can clean our homes because right now they're sitting there and getting moldy."
But Ramblers Rest RV Resort told 10 Tampa Bay they have been in contact with residents.
"We have been in regular contact with our customers since the storm, both at the property and via email communication, with six email updates provided to customers since the storm," a spokesperson said in a statement.
In addition, Ramblers Rest RV Resort said multiple crews have been on site for weeks clearing trees and removing landscaping, storm and other debris from the property.
Between working on the electrical infrastructure, plumbing, sewage, flood remediation and other clean-up efforts, Ramblers Rest RV Resort claims to be putting residents first.
According to its website, Ramblers Rest is "temporarily closed." Renters were not charged for the month of October but say they have not heard what will happen in November.
Sarasota lawyer Dawn Marie Bates-Buchanan, who specializes in housing law, said properties such as Ramblers Rest have obligations under Florida Statute 513.
"They have to take reasonable action to maintain the lot and to maintain a common area. Not doing that is in violation of Florida statute and they can have fines placed against them or other things," Bates-Buchanan said.
However, she said because of the hurricane, the company is in the clear for now as long as they can prove they're trying to get work done.
"It's not necessarily going to be the park's fault if they've called for those services and nobody is available," Bates-Buchanan said.
She estimates park owners have about a 60 to 90-day grace period to get back up and running.
"I would say, tenants, probably by mid-December, could start filing a complaint with the Department of Health," Bates-Buchanan said.
However, she said the company does have an obligation to communicate with people who live there.
"As somebody who is in a contract with the park, as a tenant, they have the right to know what options are happening and why things are not happening," Bates-Buchanan said.
"We have had no less than seven different vendors assisting us with the restoration effort," a spokesperson for Ramblers Rest RV Resort said.
With few answers and little hope, neighbors fear desperation will split this tight-knit community apart. Residents say while the property is advertised as an RV resort, there are hundreds of modular homes on site where people live full-time.
"We're going to lose our community if people start walking away," Furseth said.
They say it is already happening.
"Every day you go through a heartbreak with somebody. You sit on the porch and you say goodbye to them," Bennett said.
Earlier this week, the park manager told 10 Tampa Bay they were communicating with residents but did not immediately provide us with any evidence when asked. Since then, Ramblers Rest RV Resort sent links to emails sent to residents, adding that residents should have received the most recent update on Tuesday, Oct. 25.