FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The sight of the U-haul in the driveway across the street was not, at all, what Joe Davis expected to see.
Regardless, Davis said he felt, “Elation, obviously.” He looked on as several people loaded up the moving truck and a couple of black SUVs.
“All my neighbors were calling,” said Davis.
The Leave it to Layron Team first met Davis and his Fort Lauderdale neighbors, earlier this year.
A steady stream of black SUVs coming and going from NE 55th Street --- people piling into those SUVs, going and coming like clockwork— raised neighbors’ suspicions. Neighbors said the activity had been going on for months.
One day, a neighbor followed one of the SUVs after it left the home until it reached its final destination at 1730 Commercial Blvd: The Source, an addiction and recovery center.
An attorney representing the treatment center sent the LITL team a statement, saying, "Part of recovery is helping patients find sober living during and after treatment." The statement identified the house on NE 55th Street as one of those sites.
A new Fort Lauderdale ordinance went into effect, last spring to regulate community residences. A city memo defines a community residence as “a residential living arrangement for unrelated individuals with disabilities living as a single functional family in a single dwelling who are in need of the mutual support furnished by other residents as well as support services.”
Before adopting the ordinance, the city conducted a study to make sure its new ordinance lined up with fair housing laws. City staff also worked with the Florida Association of Recovery Residences (FARR) (http://farronline.org/) to identify properties operating as community residences. FARR is an agency that certifies community residences.
Under the city's new ordinance, community residences are required to register with the city and be certified by the state credentialing agency, if one is available.
The house on NE 55th Street, though, was not registered.
A complaint prompted code enforcement to open a case in November, but the case was closed about a month later after inspectors revisited the property and found no one home, no activity, and no vehicles.
Days after the LITL team started questions, code enforcement officers opened a case against the property for operating as an unregistered community residence. We’ve learned an application was mailed out, along with an inspection report. A reinspection was scheduled for Feb. 13.
At the time, The Source’s attorney said: "On, or around July 1, 2018, this property applied for FARR certification, which is still in process, and is required before the city of Fort Lauderdale will issue a certification as a community residence. This property has been actively working with the city of Fort Lauderdale to meet the requirement, and has been and is currently still undertaking any and all steps necessary to ensure compliance."
“The Source is committed to working within its local community and will gladly respond to any concerns or questions from its neighbors. Part of recovery is demonstrating a commitment to community and the source wants to lead by example for its patients.”
"This is why I think it's important that the [previous] story aired,” said Davis. “Because I think the city has to become more responsive to the residents' complaints when there is suspicion of this going on."
Just a few weeks after our story aired, code enforcement officials received a notarized affidavit saying the property would be vacated at the end of February. A reinspection of the property eventually confirmed the tenants had moved out.
When our initial investigation aired, 1930 NE 55th St. was one of 87 community residences the city was aware of, or had received complaints about.
As of March 1, city officials reported an increase to 98 cases.
After submitting an information request, Davis learned five of those were within his ZIP code.
"That was two months after the complaint on this property, and that property was not listed on here," he said. He’s convinced there are several more.
The Source declined to comment when the LITL team reached out, again, to its attorney.
Click here (http://farronline.org/certification/certified-residences/) to see what community residences are near you.