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Owners of historic Windermere boathouses ignore deadline to vacate

Town manager: “It’s up to the courts now.”

The current fight over the Palmer Park boathouses dates to a 1985 lease, which the owners at the time signed under the threat of a lawsuit from the town. At a stalemate again, the matter of who keeps the boathouses is headed to court.

Past noon on Monday, Curt Fraser still had his 20-foot 1998 Nautique tied up in boathouse #1 at Windermere’s Palmer Park that he’d bought and restored when he purchased his home across the street nearly two years ago.

Curt Fraser, in a photo from his time as an NHL, AHL, IHL hockey coach.

Monday was the deadline when Fraser and the owners of the four other Palmer Park boathouses were supposed to remove their watercraft and other items, as per the June 7 termination letter sent by GrayRobinson, the law firm representing the town of Windermere, and obtained by VoxPopuli. The letter warned the owners that any property remaining after July 11 would be “deemed abandoned.”

The boathouse leases, which were originally signed in 1985 and then extended in 2001, expired in February 2021. The seven boathouse owners had been on month-to-month leases when the town council ended those in March. Section Twelve in the lease states, “At the expiration of the lease term, Lessee shall surrender the possession of the premises …”

Fraser told VoxPopuli via text that he had no intention of leaving. “I have not removed anything, and I’m continuing as if everything is normal,” he wrote.

Other boathouse owners are taking a similar stand.

“Following the advice of our attorney. The boathouses belong to the property owners,” Ann Fanelli, who owns boathouse #2, texted VoxPopuli when asked if she had removed her boat and any other property.

Kurt Ardaman
Kurt Ardaman

Kurt Ardaman of Fishback Dominick, who is representing the boathouse owners, has advised them to stay. His argument is that Windermere had no standing to enter into the original 1985 lease because the boathouses, built in 1910, not only pre-date the town’s charter and platt, but constitute a permanent improvement on submerged land, so the rights to the shore and lake bottom belong to the boathouse owners.

According to a June 14 letter Ardaman sent to the Windermere Town Council, obtained by VoxPopuli:

“The owners will not vacate their respective properties rightfully owned and occupied by them. The boathouse owners are not ‘abandoning their boathouses, watercraft or personal property.’”

“With respect to your claim that by July 11, 2022, ‘any property left will be deemed abandoned’ that is simply not how the Florida law works. Property left behind even after a lawful eviction is not ‘deemed abandoned.’ Please refer to Florida Statutes Chapter 715."

Windermere Town Manager Robert Smith
Windermere Town Manager Robert Smith

Those statutes require that such property be stored safely, typically in the location where it was found, and that former tenants be given at least 15 days notice to reclaim it. If the property ends up being sold at a public auction for more than $500, former tenants can even petition the county for the money within a year of the sale.

With the deadline to vacate past, “it’s a matter for the courts to decide,” Windermere Town Manager Robert Smith told VoxPopuli Tuesday at a town council meeting. “We’ll leave it to the lawyers what motions to file. We have tenants that won’t leave. That’s our only recourse.”



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