Who is complaining about this guy’s code?
TAMPA – First Phone Call Last November confused real estate agent Jason Pape. Why did the angry stranger want to know, had Babi made a complaint against his house?
The second call, weeks later, was disturbing. Papi’s boss with Keller Williams Realty asked if he maliciously crushed a colleague’s sale by filing the same type of complaint with the city of Tampa.
Days later, there was a third call. Another stranger threw an obscenity.
“I didn’t know what they were talking about,” Papi said. He went looking for answers and described what he discovered as disturbing.
Pape claims someone fraudulently filed complaints in his name via the City of Tampa’s website.
City records show that from October 5 through March 27, “Jason Pape” filed at least 50 complaints against 48 homes owned by 44 different property owners. Each had enough information for the city to investigate the allegations.
“I didn’t make one of those,” Papi said.
Every complaint regarding the code was reported to the city through its online portal. They were usually for work performed without permits, which led to investigations into the homes by the Building Services Department that oversees such violations.
The property stretches from Port Tampa to the Busch Gardens neighborhood—and it turns out that most of the homes had legitimate violations.
27 investigations have been closed, and at least 18 of them have concluded that there was a problem. At least three of them were encroachments on work done years earlier by a previous owner.
At least 44 properties were for sale or rent—or had recently been sold or rented—at the time the complaint was filed. No fewer than 28 companies are owned by investment real estate companies.
BabiAnd who also owns rental properties in the area, said eight owners called him and he received another half-dozen or so calls from people asking about him and then hanging up. Papi said he thinks the calls are related.
On February 7, Pape sent a letter to the city confirming that he was not behind the string of complaints. In November, according to the letter, he called the law enforcement department and asked them to stop taking complaints in his name. The letter repeated the request.
Papi wrote: “I fear that one day a disaffected person will come to my house to harm myself, my wife, or our dog.” “We would like to live our lives in peace and work on starting our family as soon as we feel safe in our home again.”
said city spokesman Adam Smith that since the letter was received, any complaints regarding the code bearing Papi’s name must be submitted via notarized letter. But city records show that one of the crumbled fencing was presented via a law enforcement site on March 27. That investigation was prompted without a notarized letter.
Smith said that 12 complaints filed on Papi’s behalf since February 7 have been dismissed without investigation because they were submitted online.
Julie Magill, the real estate broker and general contractor whose client’s rental property is among those affected, is convinced that Papi Not behind a large number of complaints. She spent months pulling up city records as part of her own investigation and reached out to other aggrieved landlords.
“It certainly wasn’t him,” Magill said. “He is as much a victim as they are.”
An anonymous complaint was once allowed, but Florida lawmakers believed those complaints emboldened feuding neighbors to make petty accusations. So, in July 2021, state law prohibited municipalities from investigating anonymous submissions unless they consider the case to be an imminent risk. Anyone reporting a violation must provide their name and home address.
“Our law enforcement resources are scarce in many places, and this, I think, will better target and focus complaints on legitimate disputes,” Republican Senator Jennifer Bradley said when she first introduced the bill in February 2021.
Magill believes the law should require a third-party verification system. “How can we just work on the honor system?” She said.
Mark Hamburg, real estate agent since 1977And He said that sometimes people take law enforcement complaints to extremes.
“Sometimes you get a live observer reporting every problem they see,” he said. “A disgruntled tenant may want to repair the house or return to the landlord. A potential buyer may file a complaint to get a better deal. Or someone may retaliate against the landlord.”
But Hamburg said he had never heard of a case in which someone lodged so many complaints covering such a large area of the city. “Usually, if someone makes many complaints, they’re in the same neighborhood.”
Papy’s complaints are the talk of the real estate community, Hamburg said, and some are wondering if someone is targeting competitors.
Magill believes there are likely other fake names being used to file the complaints.
Looking at Tampa law enforcement records from last year, the Tampa Bay Times identified two possible fraudulent names.
From September 12 through October 6, “Isaac Booth” filed no fewer than 25 email complaints covering the city and most of them against investment properties. When the Times sent a message to the email address listed in the complaints, it bounced back. And according to the real estate manager of his listed residence, no one with that name had ever lived there.
From April 12 to May 15, “Luis Hernandez” filed at least 13 similar complaints through a combination of email and the city’s website. But the home address listed was for rent during that time, according to the property manager’s website. The property manager did not return Times’ call. There was no response to a message sent to the email listed.
When Pappy is told about Booth and Hernandez, he is convinced they are connected to the complaints made in his name. He noted that the complaints in Booth’s name ceased the day after they had been started in his name.
No one seems to drive around town looking for offenses.
According to Magill, it appears someone is combing real estate listings online, comparing current photos to those on past listings and looking for changes, then checking to see if permits have been pulled for this business—public information available through the city’s website.
“Otherwise, how would they know what work was done inside the house?” Magill said.
Of the complaints filed in Papi’s name, at least 21 involve inside business and some refer to Zillow List. Behind them, Magill said, she estimates it took the complainant 15 minutes to get the information.
“It’s so easy,” she said. “All it takes is a computer and some time.”
Twelve homeowners cited “pape” complaints as returning a phone call or email from the Times. Three spoke On the record. Others worried that the person behind the complaints might continue to target them If they spoke.
The pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church owns the first home that was the subject of a complaint.
Gabriel Morgan sought to sell his home as part of his move to a parsonage on campus to be more accessible to the parishioners. But the home has been off the market since responding to a complaint, the city engineer investigated the home and cited it for three violations that could cost up to $14,000 to fix. Morgan said the sliding glass door was 3 inches too short, the exterior deck posts had to be rebuilt and an electrical panel installed incorrectly.
The irregularities were for work done by the previous owner. Morgan has owned the home since 2016.
“It’s sad,” he said. “In addition to feeling like we’ve been taken advantage of by the person we bought the property from, it feels like we’ve been taken advantage of again.”
Texas resident Chris Wolf said he flips 50 to 70 homes a year in California, Texas and Tampa. One of his Tampa properties was found in violation for not pulling permits for a “complete interior remodel. New windows everywhere. New front door,” according to the complaint.
“I should have pulled the permits for the remodeling, but I didn’t because it’s basically cosmetic work being done by authorized people,” Wolf said.
In addition to the lack of permits, investigators found that there was nothing wrong with the business.
Before the Times reached out to him and learned of Pappe’s denial of responsibility, Wolf said he was considering “calling him up and getting rid of him.”
If Papi isn’t behind these complaints, Wolf thinks another homeowner or real estate agent should.
“The competition is trying to shut others out,” Wolf said.
A property owned by house flipper Tim Nguyen was found in violation of a “complete permit-less renovation,” according to the complaint, but he said the primary issue the city investigator mentioned was a porch enclosed by a previous owner.
He bought the house in September, it was cited in January, and he has since held the sale until he can bring the porch back up to code. Nguyen estimates he has lost $50,000 on the investment property so far due to accruing interest and working to bring the house back up to code.
“It cost me that time,” Nguyen said. “And time is money when you repay loans.”
Papi said he wanted to know who was tarnishing his name and hoped the owners of the affected estates would believe him.
He said, “I just want this to stop.” “I don’t want to get angry calls or be afraid that someone is after me. I just want to live my life in peace.”