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Ruling says PSC has power on mobile home park utilities

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Public Service Commission has authority over whether owners of a mobile-home park can stop providing water and sewer service to residents, an appeals court ruled Wednesday in a Pasco County case.

The ruling by a three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal overturned a decision by a circuit judge, who sided with owners of the Palm Tree Acres Mobile Home Park in a dispute with residents.

Citing constitutional property rights, the circuit judge said the owners could discontinue the water and sewer service. But the appeals court Wednesday pointed to state laws giving authority to the Public Service Commission about utility service.

“If the respondents (the park owners) had never provided utility service to the petitioners (residents), then they likely could not be forced to use their land to begin providing such service,” said the nine-page ruling, written by Judge Darryl Casanueva and joined by Chief Judge Nelly Khouzam and Judge J. Andrew Atkinson.

“However, the respondents have been providing utility service to the petitioners' homes for decades. As such, the respondents are a provider of utility service pursuant to (a section of state law), and the PSC has ‘exclusive jurisdiction’ over them ‘with respect to (the respondents') authority, service, and rates.’ The respondents cannot claim that, because they own the land used to provide these services, their constitutional rights related to the ownership of that land divests the PSC of its jurisdiction. If the respondents' argument were accepted, then a utility provider that owns the property used to provide such services could terminate those services and its actions would be outside the jurisdiction of the PSC; the PSC's jurisdiction over such disputes would be illusory at best.”