In the face of government reluctance, this Lake Worth man persists

Feb 09, 2018
Bud Greene says the property next door is illegally renting out the back unit at 211 N. M Street in Lake Worth, Florida on February 8, 2018. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Not much has changed for Bud Greene the past few years. He’s still married. He’s still lives in Lake Worth. He still believes the backyard structure at 211 N. M St. is being rented out illegally.

“There’s something going on that’s wrong,” said Greene, 79, who has lived the past 58 years next door at 215 N. M St.

“All the proof that I’ve given would stand up in a court of law certainly beyond any reasonable doubt.”

In a bitter dispute that reveals the lengths people will go to press their case, even in the face of a reluctant government, Greene insists he is right and his neighbor is wrong. So far, he’s been powerless, however, to effect change.

His reading of what constitutes judicial proof is simply not enough, the city says.

LAKE WORTH READERS: Sign up for The Post’s Lake Worth newsletter here

His evidence is circumstantial, Lake Worth’s City Attorney Christy Goddeau said.

“We need more direct evidence,” Goddeau said. “If the evidence doesn’t meet the standard burden of proof we have, whether its Bud Greene or anyone else, we’re not going to move the case forward. We need substantial, competent, direct evidence.”

Greene, a former code enforcement board member who has been fighting the issue for years, said he has a copy of the lease signed by the resident, Wallace Irizarry. He also has sworn statements from Roy Strohacker, a private investigator, who in an affidavit in March 2013 said Irizarry told him he was renting the rear cottage.

“It’s a garage being used as a rental unit,” Greene said. “This is not supposed to happen and it degrades the whole neighborhood.”

Six years ago, Greene called the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office 24 times, mostly because of loud, drunken parties he said were being held at the unit.

READ: Lake Worth says at last it has electric rate parity with FPL

“Each time I was awoken at 1, 2, 3 o’clock in the morning by wild parties in the front and back building,” Greene said. “My attorney has all those reports.”

Heidi Mehaffey, his Pompano Beach attorney, supported his account.

“Regardless of the evidence that has been presented to the city of Lake Worth’s code enforcement … they do not believe there are code violations that need to be enforced,” Mehaffey said.

Greene said he spent more than $12,000 on the case, with Mehaffey his third attorney.

No city official, other than its attorney, was allowed to answer questions, city spokesman Ben Kerr said.

The property is owned by Katherine Lewis, who bought the home in 2011 for $81,000, property records show.

While The Palm Beach Post could not reach Lewis, her father, Scott, made an allegation against Greene.

“He was in the house trying to figure out how to outbid my daughter when it was for sale,” he said. “I warned her that this guy seemed like a bad guy who would do something and that’s exactly what he’s done. He won’t tell you he wanted the property now because that would explain his motivation. If you want the property, what’s the best way to do it? Harass the (expletive) out of the neighbor.”

Greene denied the account. “I have no intention of buying any property,” he said.

Greene bases his allegations on a 2003 Historic Resources Preservation Board ruling that said that the “accessory structure” could “never be used as a rental.”

He said the city hasn’t done anything because it’s worried that Carol Lewis, the property’s owner’s mother, has threatened to sue the city over homes that are used as vacation rentals.

In 2013, Carol Lewis, a Realtor, told The Post that the city’s 60-day minimum stay rule would end her vacation rental business.

Three years ago, William Waters, the city’s community sustainability director, told The Post the 211 N. M St. property has not been illegally rented, has had a business license since 2012 and has been inspected numerous times.

The confusion, Waters said, stemmed 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.”

Mehaffey said she has reached out to the county’s Office of Inspector General, Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics and the Palm Beach County Commission.

“We’re disappointed that the watchdog agencies have not stepped in to mandate compliance with the laws of Lake Worth,” Mehaffey said. “We believe there’s a systematic problem in Lake Worth, where code violations are not being addressed and violating properties are not being allowed to come into compliance.”

Greene has threatened a civil suit against the city for years until he said he was told he couldn’t. Mehaffey said one of the responses she received from the Office of Inspector General said Lake Worth cited a case that stated the city has the discretion to enforce its code or not.

“We checked the case out, it’s good law and we can’t sue the city of Lake Worth to directly mandate that they enforce their laws,” Mehaffey said. “It’s something they have to decide to do.”

Still, Greene moves forward.

“It’s the principle of the thing,” he said.