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Brandon Foundation, helpful neighbors aid victims of Riverview fire

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image The mobile home, located on the corner of McMullen Road and Palm Avenue just southwest of the Riverview High School, had rooms built on and was once 2,300-square feet, home to three generations. Photo Penny Fletcher

They're just afraid they’ll be evicted before they get things straightened out.

By PENNY FLETCHER
 
The Cozzetto family doesn’t have the money to hire an industrial crew to clean up its burned-out mobile home. And some neighbors don’t like the pop-up removed from a camper truck that the Cozzettos are living in, nor  the portable toilet on the Riverview property.

Other neighbors, and the Brandon Foundation, are helping the family, but the Cozzettos worry their help will not come soon enough to keep ahead of code violations.

Cleaning up the 2,300-square-foot burned-up home at 10809 McMullen Road on the corner of Palm Avenue just southwest of Riverview High School is not an easy task, said Eros Dahl, a local mortgage broker. He said he became involved because he drove by the property and saw the family cleaning up the debris by hand.

County code enforcement officials said no fines have been levied yet and that they want to  help by granting extensions to fix any code violations. But the burned-out structure is dangerous, officials said, adding that the complaints are valid.

Holly and Vince Cozzetto didn’t expect it to be easy when they moved to Riverview from Georgia last September to help Holly’s 86-year-old father through his last days.

They didn’t make it in time.

“He died before they got here,” said Randy Walter, a neighbor who recently retired from the Air Force and now is  employed at MacDill Air Force Base. Gesturing at the burned-out home, Walter explained that he and his friends have been trying to help the Cozzettos.

The couple was just completing the funeral arrangements when they realized the home was subject to  code violation.

According to Jim Blinck, operations manager for Hillsborough County Code Enforcement, the first violation was written  Oct. 18, before the fire and before the Cozzettos became involved.  That was issued because of a complaint about a blue tarp that Holly’s father had on the mobile home’s roof, Blinck said.

“Dad was old and couldn’t keep things up,” Holly Cozzetto said. Also living in the home after falling on hard times were Holly and Vince’s pregnant daughter and son-in-law and their two children, ages 1 and 2.

They all know they’re fortunate to have made it out alive, and the younger family of four is now staying with friends. Holly and Vince, however, are living in the donated pop-up and trying to clean up the property manually, which is permissible without a permit because although the structure had built-on rooms and looked like a house, it was a mobile home.

“A mobile home can be demolished without a permit,” said Blinck. “A permanent structure can’t.”

Walter and his friends got involved because he saw the couple in the pop-up trying to clean up the property by hand. None of them wanted to be photographed, asking that the focus be kept on the Cozzettos.

One side of the property is covered with piles where burned boards have been separated from metal and anything else that’s salvageable.

Dahl has called on his friends in the real estate business and a title company. He has also contacted The Brandon Foundation. He said, “The Foundation has provided for two dumpsters at $400 each, and is taking care of arrangements for the portable toilet facilities, but these people need hands-on demolition help out there.”

“I know Holly wants to keep the property,” said Walter. “But what would be best would be to get a buyer — maybe someone who flips properties — to advance the couple enough to move into another place and then pay them whatever else they get from the property sale after the place is cleaned up.

“It’s obvious there’s no way to salvage the home,” he said.

Dahl said another possibility is enough monetary donations to allow the Cozzettos to clean up the property and put another mobile home on it.

Dahl said he is busy with the Veterans Aid Committee of the Riverview Chamber of Commerce but that he is continuing to try to help. He said he and several friends have given the couple some Walmart gift cards.

“When there’s no electricity and no running water, there’s not any sense in people bringing food,’’ he said. The Cozzettos are “better off buying what they need by the day,” he said.

The Brandon Foundation is about to get heavily involved, said its executive director, Rich Strehl. So far, direct contact with the family has been made by Foundation member Alex Hebert.

The Cozettos say they’re caught between a rock and a hard place.

“I don’t have any idea what we can do,” Holly Cozzetto said. “We’re doing everything we can.”

But her father had no homeowner’s insurance because it was a mobile home on private property — not in a park — and that, she said, is very hard to obtain. 

Meanwhile, they’re living in the small pop-up with no running water, using the donated portable toilet and using a generator for electricity. All of which raises even more problems with county code.

Blinck said two inspections were made by code enforcement official Jeffrey Ramer after the Dec. 22 fire and that officials are granting the couple more time.

“We want to bring this to resolution somehow,” Blinck said. “But at some point, citations will have to be issued with some kind of time limit.”

County records also show that the home is on an acre and a half of land and that the deed is in both Holly and a relative’s name. The relative of record is listed as Ollie Camp, Holly’s brother.

Dahl said they need some help with someone who knows how to get the deed “squared away” because there are problems with the deed.

The Cozzettos know this situation can’t go on this way for long.

“I’m just afraid we’ll be evicted before we get this thing straightened out,” Holly Cozzetto said. “I don’t know what we’d do then.”

Those who want to help may contact info@brandonfoundation.com, Strehl said.

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