JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The I-TEAM has discovered a disgusting problem scurrying around several homes at the Hilltop Village apartment community on West 45th Street in Northwest Jacksonville.
A mice infestation has tenants walking over or around glue traps set to try to catch some of the rodents. Some tenants place them around their beds at night to stop the pests before they can crawl under their covers.
“I caught 28 rats in two days. Two days!” said Sedricia Tinsley as she showed the I-TEAM what’s left of the corner of her couch that has a hole in it eaten by a mouse.
Tinsley recorded video of the rodent using her cell phone as it ran away when she pulled back one of the cushions. She also showed us a picture of the homemade trap she made.
The glue traps only catch one or two mice at a time, and she said she needed something bigger, so she put two traps in a box and then lined it with peanut butter to attract the mice. She caught five at once (pictured above).
Tinsley walked us through her living room, where a camera sits on a side table to record nighttime video of mice that roam her apartment.
She also took us to her daughter’s room, where she said she recently recorded other video of two mice scurrying around inside her little girl’s dresser when she opened it.
“My daughter doesn’t use this bedroom anymore, " she explained as she opened the drawers, which have now been emptied of clothes.
More than a dozen rodent droppings could be seen lining the bottom. Tinsley then pivoted to her daughter’s twin-sized mattress with two holes in it.
“Any time that you would come and bump up against the mattress, like, they (mice) will come running out of the holes,” she said, demonstrating.
She put her fingers in one of the holes where she said mice had removed the stuffing, which rodents often use to make nests for their babies. We asked her where her daughters sleep.
“They all sleep with me,” she explained.
She said her oldest daughter wets the bed to avoid having to walk to the bathroom alone.
“They don’t get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom because they are afraid,” Tinsley said.
She then led us to the kitchen. The countertops are bare. She has to hide all her food inside the refrigerator to prevent mice from eating it.
“They bite through the rice bag. They bite through the sugar bag. They bite through the cereal bag,” she explained.
She also pointed to the cabinet above her stove. It’s empty because there are dozens of rodent droppings lining the bottom.
Tinsley also showed us video of a time she opened the cabinet doors under her sink and kicked a box containing new pots after hearing something rummaging around.
As she kicked, you could see what looks like some kind of bedding material and then three or four tiny pink animals rolling around. They are pinkies, baby mice that had been laid inside the box.
“I called the office, and I was like, ‘Rats laid babies in my pots, my box of brand new pots. Can you send maintenance?’ I called at 11 and nobody came until after 2 p.m.” Tinsley said.
She said all the babies were gone by then, whisked away by other mice.
Hilltop Village Apartments provides low-income housing for residents. In exchange, it receives generous federal tax credits administered by the Florida Housing Finance Corporation. In addition, it also receives a monthly federal subsidy from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to pay a portion of the rent on behalf of the low-income tenants residing there.
Tinsley said she has called “corporate” to report the mice problem after she said the property management office only suggested she use glue traps to correct the mice problem.
“When you call corporate, they call the front office,” she said referring to the property management office located at the front of the entrance to the property.
She is not alone. Jasmine Hairston invited us into the apartment she rents in the same community, but in a different building. Hilltop Village Apartments consist of 14 apartment buildings with several units in each.
There are two glue traps at the base of Hairston’s kitchen cabinets. She placed them there to catch any of the 10 rodents she said she has seen in recent months. She opened the closet door where the A/C unit is installed and pointed inside.
“Look, there’s one on there, and it’s fresh,” she explained. A small mouse was writhing on the glue trap trying to free itself but was unable.
In her kitchen, Hairston opened a drawer, explaining that she was recently grabbing some spices and found two live mice inside.
“I had to hurry up and get a glue trap and put it on top so they would stick,” she said. Hairston said her 9-year-old daughter is allergic to rodent hairs and that she has had to miss work to take her to the doctor.
“Her eyes get real watery. Her throat starts itching. She starts sneezing real bad,” she explained.
Hairston said nighttime is the worst.
“Oh my gosh, sometimes I don’t even sleep in my own bed because I’m so scared, because I can be sleeping and I hear, ‘squeak, squeak, squeak’, all night,” she said.
She said when she first reported the issue to property management, they gave her the same answer they gave Tinsley: Glue traps.
She said it does not stop the problem and when she contacted someone from the corporate office, pest control was sent to her apartment, but she said even though they filled some of the holes in the wall, “it doesn’t do a bit of good because it’s like the infestation is in here,” referencing the entire building.
Tiara Buck lives in Building J, which is on the western most side of the apartment community. It is four apartment buildings from where Hairston lives and is on the opposite side of the complex from Sedricia Tinsley’s home.
Buck said she has been battling mice in her apartment for months. She was mortified last week while watching TV in the living room with her 2-year-old son when he picked up a dead mouse by its tail.
“A dead mouse,” she yelled during our interview.
She said it was still stuck to the glue trap and must have been caught under her couch without her realizing it was there. She also showed us a picture of a bag of food with the corner missing.
“I got bags of muffins -- the rats chewed through it -- cans and things. That’s how bad it is. It’s really bad,” she explained. Buck said she has complained to management about the mice, too, but said glue traps are only a band aid. She said the entire place, the attic needs to be bombed to kill all the mice.
“They set up these mice traps outside the building. They ain’t working. They’re (mice) literally coming from top to bottom, from bottom to top,” Buck said.
While we were interviewing the women in this story, we spotted several large black boxes the size of a shoebox placed outside several of the apartment buildings. They said they were placed there by the pest control company hired by the property management company to try to catch some of the mice.
We did some digging and were stunned to discover mice have been a problem at the Hilltop Village Apartments for at least two years.
We found 11 complaints filed with the city’s code enforcement office since 2019 by tenants. Seven of them indicate what could be described as a mice infestation.
For perspective, the 14 apartment buildings on the property are each labeled by letter, A through N, and are arranged in a U-shape.
We know Sedricia Tinsley lives in Building E, Tiara Buck in Building J, and Jasmine Hairston lives in Building N.
City records also indicate a mice problem in Building D. A tenant sent us video of three mice scurrying around in her kitchen garbage can.
Another tenant in Building C sent us a picture of two mice caught on a glue trap in her closet. She said it is so bad, she and her son sleep with traps outside their bedroom doors and around their bed to try to catch the rodents before they crawl under the covers.
Records also show a tenant in Building L reported a “mice infestation” to the city in her apartment just two months ago in March.
A mother in Building F also said she is catching so many mice on glue traps that she has started putting them in a bucket outside her front door so she doesn’t have to keep walking to the dumpster.
We also spoke with a woman who reported to code enforcement that the rodent problem in Building I is “getting worse.”
Between the interviews we’ve conducted and the city’s code enforcement complaints, the I-TEAM has discovered seven of the 14 buildings in the Hilltop Village apartment community have a reported mice problem.
All of the tenants we spoke with are mothers with young children who told us each time they have called to report the problem, a maintenance person is sent to the apartment to either remove glue traps with dead mice or to provide glue traps to catch more.
Many do not want to be identified publicly because they worry they will be evicted for complaining. Not one tenant told us that the property manager actually went to the apartment herself to see the problem first hand.
We took a mousetrap with several dead mice with us to the property management office to show the woman who works there what these tenants are living with day and night. A woman who opened the door as we approached, backed up and retreated inside the office closing the door so we could not enter. The door was locked. She told us to wait.
Another woman then came to the door but refused to open it and told us we needed to call Cambridge Management, the corporate office. The number we were given indicates the office is in Tacoma, Washington.
We called twice and each time no one was available to speak with us over the phone. We later received this statement via email:
In response to recent complaints, we have engaged a pest control vendor to take additional and appropriate actions to address the reported pest control issues. We ask residents with any concerns to let us know so we can address them as soon as possible.
Katelynn DeSart Perez
Marketing & Public Relations Specialist
Cambridge Management, Inc.
Our request for an interview with a regional director was not acknowledged. When we asked what the “additional and appropriate actions” now being taken are and why have these not been taken in the last two years, this is the response we received:
“The community engaged ongoing pest control treatment over the last two years but recent concerns prompted us to take additional action. We are now implementing a customized plan developed with the pest control company to best ensure the issue is resolved for residents who reported concerns and the rest of the community.”
Katelynn DeSart Perez
We are still waiting for the answer to our follow-up question about what the “customized plan” entails.
Equally as frustrating in our search for answers is what happened when we tried to contact Jacksonville’s HUD office. We were turned away when we tried to enter the federal building where the office is located downtown. We were told everyone from the office is working remotely. When we called the number listed in the Jacksonville directory, a recorded voice message answered. The mailbox is full and no messages can be left.
We tried two other numbers listed in the state’s directory for account executives who work with HUD properties. No one answered and each recording sent us to another person. We left a message with a person who identified herself as the satellite coordinator. She has still not returned the call.
As our I-TEAM works to get answers for these tenants, we want to hear from you. If you live at the Hilltop Village Apartments and are experiencing or have experienced a mice problem, email firstname.lastname@example.org.