Lake Worth resident claims property owner illegally rents home

11:30 a.m. Friday, Oct. 30, 2015 Local

Bud Greene has spent every one of his 82 years in Lake Worth, living on the same block — North M Street — for 76 years. He’s made 215 N. M St. his home the past 55 years — all of them with his wife, Helen, a local historian.

But unlike Mister Rogers, Greene, a former code enforcement board member, hasn’t always been happy in his neighborhood. He claims the 457-square-foot backyard structure behind the home right next door has been rented out illegally the past four years, with the city refusing to do anything about it.

Greene said he’s had to contend with rowdy college students, prostitutes and constant traffic in and out of the area at all hours of the night.

“It’s just not right,” he said.

Greene bases his allegations on a 2003 ruling by the Historic Resources Preservation Board, which said that the “accessory structure” could “never be used as a rental.” But Greene said the property, owned by Katharine Lewis, has been violating that order since Lewis bought the home for $81,000 in 2011.

Greene said Katharine’s mother, Carol, who owns several properties in the city, has power of attorney over the property.

Carol declined to comment on Greene’s allegations.

In 2013, Greene hired Roy Strohacker, a private investigator, who in a sworn affidavit on March 7, 2013 said that Wallace Irizarry told him he was renting the rear cottage.

Greene, a speech pathologist who has worked with the Palm Beach County School District for 25 years, said he’s called the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s office more than two dozen times in a six-month period in 2012 because of loud, drunken parties that lasted into the wee hours of the night.

On May 19, 2012, a sheriff’s office deputy told neighbors to keep the noise down, according to service call report. The neighbors also told the deputy that they had been renting the property for some time and that Greene had complained about them numerous times, the report shows.

Greene claims the city hasn’t looked into his allegations because city officials are worried that Carol Lewis, a local Realtor, has threatened to sue the city over homes that are used as vacation rentals.

“That’s what the city is afraid of and the pressure this woman can exert on her properties,” Greene said.

Lewis in March 2013 told The Palm Beach Post that that a 60-day minimum stay rule would end her vacation rental business.

In 2012, Greene hired Kirk Friedland, a West Palm Beach attorney, who requested the city take action against the owner and to bring the property into code compliance.

In a letter to Friedman dated Oct. 12, 2012, City Attorney Christy Goddeau wrote the city had “serious doubts as to whether sufficient competence evidence” existed to prosecute the alleged violations.

Goddeau told The Palm Beach Post the sworn affidavits Greene had in his possession weren’t enough and would be considered hearsay by a special magistrate. She said she asked Greene to testify and that he refused.

“That’s a lie,” Greene said. “I would have testified then and I would testify now. I can get six other people to testify as well.”

City officials say all of Greene’s claims are baseless.

According to William Waters, the city’s community sustainability director, the North M Street property has not been illegally rented, has had a business license since 2012 and has been inspected numerous times.

The confusion, Waters said, stems from the board overstepping its bounds in its 2003 ruling.

“We had no legal standing to prevent any owner from renting their property as long as they had a business license,” Waters said. “We have followed up on every single complaint, which numbers in the dozens.”

Goddeau said a few years after the board’s ruling, former City Attorney Elaine Humphrey interpreted the order as meaning the backyard unit couldn’t be rented as a separate dwelling. But the structure isn’t considered a dwelling, Humphrey’s thinking went, according to Goddeau, because it doesn’t have a kitchen.

“Our previous attorney didn’t have the same interpretation of the ruling as Mr. Greene,” Goddeau said.

Waters expalined city code does not allow an accessory structure to be used as a dwelling, but a dwelling can be rented as part of the main house.

“It was an inappropriate overstep by the board,” said City Manager Michael Bornstein. “A resident can’t hang his hat on something that may not be legal.”

Still, Greene said the city and Lewis are pulling a fast one.

“It’s not right that the city is not obeying what was decided by the historic board,” he said. “We’ve had so many problems there. Justice is justice.”