Surprise visit from city inspectors after I-TEAM report on mice infestation at local complex

HUD hasn’t inspected Hilltop Village Apartments in 6 years, Sen. Marco Rubio says

The News4JAX I-TEAM is getting results for tenants at a northwest Jacksonville apartment community who are living with a mice infestation.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The I-TEAM is getting results for tenants at a Northwest Jacksonville apartment community who are living with a mice infestation.

We first reported on the rodent complaints at the Hilltop Village Apartment community on West 45th Street on Thursday, detailing the disgusting accounts from residents and uncovering that the problems date back at least two years.

RELATED: Mice infestation complaints date back at least 2 years | Answers to 3 common questions about tenants’ legal rights

After our investigation, Jacksonville’s code enforcement showed up for a surprise inspection Tuesday and Sen. Marco Rubio’s Office launched its own investigation.

News4Jax saw at least a dozen local code enforcement inspectors out at the property Tuesday. They wouldn’t tell News4Jax why they were at the property, but they did respond to City Councilwoman Ju’Coby Pittman’s questions and allowed her to join the surprise inspection after we called her about what we had discovered.

City Councilwoman Ju’Coby Pittman joins the inspection at the Hilltop Village Apartments. (WJXT)

“I’m appalled by how these residents are living,” Pittman said after spending time with the inspectors Tuesday.

Since our story aired Thursday, 11 more tenants have reached out to the I-TEAM, complaining about mice where they live. So many residents have called the I-TEAM, we have discovered a mice problem in 13 of the 14 buildings at the Hilltop Village Apartments.

A tenant in Building G sent us video of a mouse running around inside a ceiling light in her apartment. She said some of them die and the smell is awful. She also shared photos of two others she’s caught on glue traps.

A tenant in Building B found a dead mouse on a trap in her utility closet. She lives in her unit with four young children and said the rodent droppings are gross. Courtney James, who lives in Building M, said she has been battling mice since last June. “I’m not a dirty person. I clean every day, and no matter how much I clean, they still come,” James said.

She is afraid of mice crawling into her 2-month-old daughter’s crib.

“I sleep her with me. I know people don’t want that for an infant, but I have to. Idon’t want her in her crib alone,” James said.

James said she’s called property management more than 15 times and she called the corporate office also to no avail.

“They tell me they’ll call me back. Last time I called corporate, they called the front office and told them I called them and the lady from the front office got upset and came and told me that it’s normal to have mice because I live across the street from a graveyard site,” James said.

Pittman likened what she saw inside the apartments Tuesday to prison. She said after seeing the conditions at the apartments for herself and speaking to residents, she has a plan to ensure changes.

A code enforcement inspector is pictured at the Hilltop Village Apartments. (WJXT)

Cambridge Management, the corporate office for the property managers at Hilltop Village, sent News4Jax this statement on Friday after the I-TEAM’s initial story aired last week:

Community management and ownership are fully committed to providing quality housing for our residents. As it became clear that standard treatments were not effective, the owners and management moved to more rigorous treatments. On April 22nd management signed a new contract as part of a customized plan for pest control treatment and work is underway.

The scope of work, as described in the contract includes “…concreting all roof returns and transitions, sealing all HVAC and utility entry/exit points, sealing all plumbing and gable vents, soffit repaired and secured where possible, replaced and secured where necessary. Installation of exclusion doors so animals can leave but not come back, interior trapping in the attics/crawl spaces until animals are all out, and sterilization of the attics/crawlspaces once completely removed...”

Residents have been provided with information about the work that has commenced and are encouraged to contact the office by phone, email or through the online resident portal with any concerns or questions about treatments.

Rubio’s letter to HUD

The Hilltop Village apartments receive federal money through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and according to a letter from Rubio to the HUD secretary, the department has not inspected the Hilltop Village apartments since 2015, a violation of HUD’s own rules, Rubio says.

Rubio sent the letter to HUD’s secretary Tuesday after his own team of investigators went to the apartments Monday as a result of our story last week. They were there to inspect the conditions and speak with families.

READ: Full letter from Rubio to HUD secretary | RELATED: Sen. Rubio: ‘Unsafe and unsanitary’ living at Eastside apartments

The result was Rubio’s letter to the secretary, which says in part, “ staff met with tenants and found disturbing evidence of a severe rodent infestation and chronic garbage overflow throughout the entire property.”

The letter goes on to say, “It is unacceptable that the residents of Hilltop Village Apartments have been obligated to live under these conditions…”

Adding that, “Residents should not have to wait almost six years between safety and sanitation inspections to be guaranteed appropriate living conditions.”

Rubio is demanding immediate action, including inspections of the property, elimination of the rodent problem and enforcement of any penalties that may apply to the owners or management.

About the Author:

Jennifer, who anchors The Morning Shows and is part of the I-TEAM, loves working in her hometown of Jacksonville.