Residents on Park Boulevard in downtown Oldsmar have been dealing with hostile neighbors for more than 10 months.
Anyone who has ever lived in a densely populated residential area has probably felt that sense of dread whenever new neighbors move in next door.
In fact, there’s a slew of movies, books and magazine articles dedicated to the subject of nasty neighbors.
For several families in downtown Oldsmar, the fear of new neighbors disrupting their serene, everyday lives became a reality last fall, as a group of young men with little regard for social niceties rented a small, single family residence on Park Boulevard in October, turning what used to be Mayberry 2.0 into ground zero of nasty neighborly behavior.
Downtown Oldsmar resident Dave Murray.
“They came in with a bang,” Dave Murray, a married father of two who has lived in his current home since 2010, recently told Oldsmar Connect.
“They all have large trucks, and they were racing down Park Boulevard. My wife and I were like, ‘oh boy.’”
Murray said he tried to welcome the newcomers to the neighborhood, but his attempts at keeping the peace fell on deaf ears.
“I extended them a lot of grace,” he said. “We started very civil, we exchanged phone numbers. Everything was okay for about 60 days.”
“But then the parties ramped up in the winter, and they would ride their four wheelers in the backyard and blast the stereo. They’d use our yard as a parking lot, so we extended our fence to the street. They repeatedly damaged the fence, drove up to the driveway and revved their engines. At one point a guy jumped out of his truck and raised his arms while coming towards my wife. That’s when things really started to get serious and I knew there was a real problem here.”
Unfortunately, the problems escalated from there.
Downtown Oldsmar resident Dave Murray claims his disruptive neighbors painted this graffiti on a wall at nearby R.E. Olds Park. It was eventually removed after repeated requests from Murray and other neighbors.
According to Murray, in addition to the noise and partying and street racing, the renters painted offensive slogans on their vehicles and in their driveway, and they even tagged a wall at nearby R.E. Olds Park and carved a racially charged acronym onto a tree in their front yard.
“They spray-painted ‘F— You’ in their driveway,” Murray said. “The day after, he put a sticker on his back window that said ‘Keep Calm and Go F— Yourself’ and parked it in front of our window.”
A racially charged acronym was carved into a tree on the offenders property. (Credit: Dave Murray.)
The taunting then took a more permanent turn.
“They first spray painted “WFO,” which we were told stands for White Folks Only, on their driveway, but after code enforcement told them they couldn’t paint on the driveway, they carved it into a tree because evidently that wasn’t against City code,” Murray said.
“And I have evidence they spray painted on a wall at R.E. Olds Park on the Tuesday after Memorial Day after they overheard a neighbor refer to them as “the gross people” during a discussion in our yard.”
“It’s an unreal situation to be in.”
Worried that things would only get worse and fearing for his family’s safety, Murray and other disgruntled neighbors used every legal tactic available to get the rowdy nearby noisemakers to cease and desist their disruptive behavior, including calling the landlord, who claimed the situation was out of his control, as well as Code Enforcement officials and meeting with law enforcement officers.
“We met with the (Community Patrol Officers), and they started patrolling the neighborhood, answering calls to the house and writing citations,” Murray said.
“Unfortunately, there’s nothing the cops can really do unless we can prove they’re really doing this to harm us.”
Fed up with after more than eight months of disruptive activity that included snarling dogs, roaring bonfires, ATV races in the backyard, revving engines, driving the wrong way down the street, loud music, trespassing, vandalism, “disgusting” language and messages and gunshots, Murray took his problem to the Oldsmar City Council in June, where he begged city officials for any kind of assistance.
Downtown Oldsmar resident Dave Murray appeared before the Oldsmar City Council on Tuesday, June 6, 2017 to ask for help with his situation.
“I have an unfortunate neighbor situation that I wanted to bring up to you all,” Murray said during the Citizens Open Forum on June 6.
“We’ve really exhausted our efforts as to who we can contact and we just can’t really get much help…so my wife and I are looking for advice on what to do.”
While the council members expressed sympathy for Murray and his neighbors’ situation, they conceded there was little they could do, legally, about the renters’ actions.
Oldsmar Mayor Doug Bevis.
“We’re a free country, and they’re allowed to be idiots if they want to,” Mayor Doug Bevis said, noting he had received a text message about the vandalism at the park.
“But if they’re breaking laws or breaking codes or vandalizing property, that’s where we can step in.”
Council members and downtown residents Jerry Beverland and Gabby McGee both expressed disgust at the situation.
“What I don’t understand is why we haven’t been able to get the homeowner to address it,” McGee said.
“I know there’s laws and constitutions, but if it were me and I had a child and lived next door to that, I would move if the City could not help me.”
Oldsmar City Council member Gabby McGee.
“It’s sad. It really is sad when you have to live next door to…whatever,” Beverland said, adding, “They have freedoms? So do I!”
McGee then promised that something would be done to help ensure these kinds of actions aren’t allowed to go without punishment in the future.
“There’s something that can be done, we just have to figure out what it is we can do,” she said, noting changes to the City code could be on the list of fixes.
About a month after the meeting, Deputy Cindy Kakalow of the Pinellas County Sheriffs Office organized a mediation session between the tenants, the property owner, Bujar Shala, and Murray and his father representing the group of afflicted neighbors.
During the two-and-a-half-hour session, Murray presented letters from his neighbors detailing the effects of 10 months of mayhem.
“When we purchased our home 2 ½ years ago we were delighted to live on a beautiful, quiet, family friendly street (qualities that we believed exemplified Oldsmar),” a letter from Park Boulevard homeowner Kristy Kielich read.
“However 10 months ago that atmosphere completely changed and continues to deteriorate due to the tenants.”
Kielich went on to detail behavior that included the tenants being “in the front yard drinking alcohol or standing on their roof, swearing, loudly partying” and “yelling at police officers who have been called out to stop their miscreant activities.”
Monster trucks and multiple vehicles parked on the tiny parcel have been part of the problem in an ongoing dispute between downtown Oldsmar neighbors.
Kielich concluded the letter by stating,” After many promises to become better neighbors it is evident that they have no intentions on keeping their word, changing their ways, or at the very least stop harassing our neighborhood. I am deeply concerned for my family’s personal safety, as well as my neighbors.”
A similar note from Robert and Gwen Campbell stated “We do hope that these issues can be addressed and taken seriously. When it comes to the safety of ourselves and our family we have been the victims.”
Safety Harbor resident and Oldsmar landlord Bujar “Billy” Shala. (Credit: Facebook.)
After the session, it appeared the emotional pleas might finally have had an effect, as the landlord exited the meeting with a new attitude about his tenants.
“I told them they’re bringing problems, and if they don’t stop, they have to get out,” Shala, who goes by Billy, told Oldsmar Connect outside the Council Chambers building on July 18.
“I can’t take sides until I see it, but if it doesn’t change, they have to get out. I’m not a babysitter.”
Shala, a Safety Harbor resident who owns several rental properties, went on to say he is renting the 2,000-sq.-ft. Park Boulevard home for a song to a family friend who has been down on his luck.
“They’re barely paying anything—like $400 a month,” he said. “But (he) has a lot of problems—his mom’s in jail, and he was sleeping in his truck—and I didn’t want him to fall into trouble again.”
But Shala said charity can only go so far, and he promised any more run-ins with law enforcement and/or the neighbors would earn the renters a quick exit.
“Now they’re bringing this kind of stuff, it’s too much,” he said. “I told them if it doesn’t stop, you gotta get out.”
“I feel bad that they put the City through this. I feel like I’m investing to make money but this time I invested in trouble and I don’t want that.”
Neighbors on Park Boulevard in downtown Oldsmar have been involved in an ongoing dispute for nearly a year.
Law enforcement officials expressed optimism the situation would finally be resolved.
“The meeting lasted two-and-a-half hours, and the end result was a success,” PCSO Public Information Officer Cpl. Daniel DiFrancisco told Oldsmar Connect via phone last week.
“The deputies say all parties involved had a verbal dialog and stated they would be open to better lines of communication. The deputies will continue to monitor the situation and check in with both parties to ensure compliance. The deputies also stated that violations would still be strictly enforced.”
When asked if he felt this was the end of the dispute, Murray was cautiously optimistic.
“Overall it was good,” he said of the session. “They admitted they’re doing everything on purpose to irritate us, and they said they understand it’s time to grow up.
“Billy told me if they act up again, they’re out,” he added. “My dad said he deduced a different tone this time, but I’ll believe it when I see it.”
Indeed, when pressed if he believed his tenants would really cut the clownish behavior, Shala gave a telling response.
“I hope so,” he said. “But I don’t know.”
UPDATE: Since the mediation session, Murray said his neighbors’ harassing behavior has continued, as their dogs have been coming into his yard, promises of a new fence have been unfulfilled, and Shala is refusing to return phone messages.
“A bit better, a lot of the same old same old,” Murray said in a text message on August 1.
Ed. Note: The names of the renters and the exact addresses of the involved parties have not been identified in this piece due to the volatile nature of the situation.