Out of the Box 41

This is a view of a small office plaza from the Citrus County Property Appraiser's website. The city of Inverness notified FDOT, which owns the property, it is in violation of city code due to use of a tenant, Out of the Box.

THE ISSUE: State Department of Transportation in dispute with city of Inverness over rental of storefront to animal rescue with troubled past.

OUR OPINION: What were state officials thinking?

Having been evicted by three previous tenants, Out of the Box animal rescue is now occupying space in a building owned by the Florida Department of Transportation, and this has involved the state agency in a dispute with Inverness officials.

After the rescue was evicted for a third time in less than a year from property it had occupied, it negotiated a lease for the FDOT space in a building on U.S. 41 in Inverness and received a key to the building to prepare for moving in.

However, according to a notice letter sent to Schweickert on July 29, Out of the Box has not paid the rent due on the building for July, the organization does not have the liability insurance required by the state, and it is operating a business in violation of city ordinances.

But since Out of the Box is not the owner of the building, code violation charges were filed against FDOT, which owns the building.

In total, the city has filed five code-violation complaints against the state for allegations relating to Out of the Box operating a kennel in the building without a city-issued special-use permit and not having water legally connected to the unit occupied by Out of the Box.

A hearing on the code violations was set for last Friday, Aug. 2, but on Thursday, Aug. 1, the state notified Inverness that it will not attend the code-enforcement hearing, but assured it that the situation will be rectified. The state notified Out of the Box in a July 29 letter that it must cure the lease violations or be evicted.

Among the requirements the state sent to Out of the Box are that the rescue must:

- Conform to and obey city ordinances

- Obtain bodily injury and property liability insurance in the amounts required by the lease

- Pay the agreed on rent for July, and by Aug. 2 pay both the July and August rent

- In addition to its letter to Out of the Box regarding lease violations, DOT also told city officials it will not seek a special exception permit to allow an overnight dog kennel on the property.

This appears to be yet another example of the organization's activities leaving a troubled trail across the county, despite its admirable goal of finding homes for dogs that are scheduled to be killed in county shelters.

With the publicity this rescue has received, one must wonder what FDOT officials were thinking when they gave the organization a key to their building.

In leasing property, most private property owners do at least basic background checks on prospective tenants, so one would expect the state to do at least this much before leasing a publicly owned building.

FDOT has now taken the proper steps to assure that the rescue will either be in compliance with lease terms and city ordinances or be evicted, but it seems appropriate to ask why it took citations from the city and involvement of lawyers to move the state agency to exercise the diligence it should have taken before leasing the building in the first place.

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