JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - After 18 break-ins inside the Gregory Cove Apartments complex in just a matter of months, many people living there asking how they can keep their families safe and why it keeps happening.
"To be honest with you its kind of one of those things where you don't think it's going to happen to you type deal until it does," said resident Rama Payne.
Payne had his apartment at Gregory Cove busted into. He has two young sons and a wife who are home alone when he goes to work and he says he's scared for their safety.
We also wanted to find out what rights renters have after the break-ins.
Rama Payne's wife called 911 when she got back to their apartment on June 6th and realized someone had been inside.
"As soon as she stepped through the threshold she saw the wooden piece broken off laying on the floor and then realized that we had got broken into," Payne remembered. "And she couldn't have been gone for all of 15 minutes."
Payne's wife had just taken the couples young twin boys to the store. Now, the family's computer, TV, gaming systems were all gone, and police were calling, to let her know they were on the way.
"When she was on the phone with that police officer, he literally told her he was at another crime scene within my apartment complex another burglary and when he was done with that one he would come over here," Payne said.
We found out the break in at Payne's apartment was the second one in the Gregory Cove complex that day. In fact, over a two month span 18 apartment were broken into. In May we spoke with a woman right after her apartment was burglarized.
"They took all of the electronics," said a former Gregory Cove resident, who asked not to be identified. "Five game systems iPods iPod touches they just took everything that was valuable."
She's since moved out. There were also other failed attempts to bust in storage units at the complex. Another resident sent pictures of her storage unit after she came home to discover gaps in the door.
Channel 4 Crime and Safety Analyst Ken Jefferson told Payne that if intruders have been in your house one time they know the layout, what you have and they may come back. He showed Payne just how easily that could happen.
"I'm just going to shake it to show you how easy it is to shake," Jefferson demonstrated. "That's just how much play you've got in this door. So without thinking I can use my shoulder I can use my foot to kick my way in and come in."
Jefferson says everyone should take a look at their door whether they've been burglarized or not. He says residents should make sure their door is tightened, otherwise your lock is ineffective.
Jefferson also suggests a more expensive dead bolt lock, specifically a a double cylinder lock, and an alarm system. But without a system, Jefferson says a noise maker is a great option.
"If someone breaches the door its going to make a lot of noise just like an alarm," Jefferson advised. "It's going to wake you up its going to alert you that someone an intruder is in the house."
Payne says his complex sent out a security notice, and had police patrol for about a week. But he believes management should have done more to keep residents safe, so he asked his property manager to let him out of his lease.
"When I asked her about that she told me well if everybody that got broken into wanted to move out of their apartment we wouldn't have any residences," Payne recalled.
Apartment management told him he'd have to go through normal procedure, give 60 days notice and pay an additional one months rent. That's more than 2,000 dollars. Payne he says he's so worried about his family's safety, he wants to break this lease, and leave. But he's concerned about what could happen to his credit, his future, if he does.
Attorney Ed Birk took a look at Payne's lease.
"The landlord is saying you know if you're going to agree to this contract you're going to agree we're not going to be liable for not providing a secure environment," Birk said. "Well that's contrary to the law."
According to Birk, the law says the landlord has to provide a reasonably safe environment for tenants.
"If the property is uninhabitable the law does allow him to break the lease without further obligation," Birk said. "But there are a lot of questions in there about whether the property is actually uninhabitable."
Birk says it would be up to a judge and jury to decide if the break ins make an apartment uninhabitable. Lawsuits can be costly, so Birk recommends trying to work something out with your landlord. A tenants first step, according to state law, is giving a written notice to the landlord, which gives them seven days to fix the issue.
"That's the [start of the] legal process," Birk said. "To say look, here's the defect here's the reason why this apartment is uninhabitable because of lack of security. I want you to do something about it."
If the landlord fails to provide a safe living environment, Birk says a tenant could break their lease, but risk a hit to their credit, or a lawsuit from their landlord. But if the tenant goes to court and wins, they would not responsible for any court costs or fees.
Payne says whatever decision he makes, this experience has made him more aware of his surroundings and who he talks to.
"It's put me on edge," Payne said. "That was my one saving grace was thank God they weren't home. That was the only thing I could repeat during the entire day. Is thank God they weren't home."
Channel 4 has been investigating this neighborhood crime alert for months now, reaching out on several occasions to the company that manages Gregory Cove Apartments as well as the owner We finally heard back.
While the on-site management company has so far not allowed the tenant we spoke with out of his lease , the property owner told us today that the complex would allow any of the burglarized residents out of their leases without penalty.
Meantime, the Jacksonville Sheriff's office does confirm to Channel 4 there is a suspect in this case who is being held on unrelated charges, telling us the break-ins have stopped since this person has been behind bars.
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