JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It reads like a renter’s nightmare: Infested with rodents, leaking roof and stoves that don’t work.
Over the course of two days in late February, city inspectors found more than a dozen units at Downtown East Apartments that were missing smoke detectors, multiple units infested with rodents and roaches, and several units with damaged ceilings due to leaks from either a damaged roof or a plumbing leak from the floor above.
In one unit, inspectors noted the electric system was “improperly wired” in the kitchen.
Altogether, workers with City of Jacksonville Code Enforcement opened 40 cases and reported 238 violations at Downtown East Apartments.
The complex, formally known as Franklin Arms, is owned by Flknarrs LLC. Business records show the company is based out of Austin, Texas.
It’s not the first time they’ve been in the news or inspected by the city’s code enforcement.
In 2018, News4Jax cameras recorded as close to a dozen city inspectors showed up to Franklin Arms. The owner anonymously told reporter Erik Avanier the complaint that triggered the inspection was from a disgruntled former property manager. The former manager denied any involvement.
Brian Mosier, the director of the Neighborhoods Department, said his workers have been out there a few times.
“A lot of times it’s based off a complaint from a tenant,” Mosier said.
Most recently, Mosier said his inspectors went out there on their own to systematically inspect the building one unit at a time.
Mosier said there were several units where tenants did not want to let them come in and look around. He said inspectors left with 40 cases for various violations against the owner.
“The structure itself, the stairwells and elevators, they were in better shape than the last time we were out there. We had a lot more structural issues out there last time,” Mosier said. “This time, just basic minimum housing standards. Holes in walls, cracks, just general maintenance type issues.”
Mosier said unlike last time, none of the issues rose to the level that would require them to condemn the apartment units or force anyone out for safety reasons.
Instead, the owners will be given a certain amount of time to correct the issues, and if they aren’t corrected, they will be called to court and could eventually face a fine. The fine would continue to accrue until the issues are fixed.
“We usually get resolution once the fines start accruing,” said Mosier. “If they were to do a loan on another piece of property, this would come up and they would have to deal with it before they do the transaction.”
Not everyone is convinced. One neighbor walking out of Franklin Arms who asked not to be identified said in her experience, the owners will pay their fines, but nothing about the living conditions significantly changes.
Councilmember Reggie Gaffney, who represents the area where the complex, said the apartments have been on his radar for years.
"Probably at least four or five times every month a resident is calling me complaining,” said Gaffney.
He said the solution to conditions at low-income housing complexes is not so simple, particularly for ones that are privately owned without any government subsidy.
“If we close them down, where are those 100, 200 people going to go?” said Gaffney. “You can see how tough this is for a leader. You got half saying, ‘I want better and I am going to try to move.’ You have the other half saying, ‘I don’t have anywhere else to go. This is all I can afford.’”
News4Jax attempted to speak with management at Downtown East Apartments, but was asked to leave the property. Management would not comment on recent inspections.
A situation report to Mayor Lenny Curry describes two other systematic inspections by code enforcement in February that led to even more violations and cases.
The neighborhoods department describes a systematic inspection of the 45th Street and Moncrief neighborhood as resulting in 444 cases with 712 violations cited. Another inspection in the 29th Street and Chase neighborhood resulted in 216 cases with 420 violations found.