I-TEAM: Tenant waits 359 days for city to take action after reporting mice infestation

Landlord never fined or penalized for failing to exterminate Northwest Jacksonville apartment

Landlord never fined or penalized for failing to exterminate Northwest Jacksonville apartment

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Sedricia Tinsley is frustrated, defeated and depressed. She said no one would help her get rid of mice infesting the apartment she shares with her three young children at the Hilltop Village Apartments on West 45th Street. She couldn’t afford to move nor could she afford to replace the mattress mice nested inside that belongs to her 9-year-old daughter.

When she called the property management office like she was instructed to do when there was any problem, she was told a maintenance worker would put down some mice traps to catch them. But that did nothing to prevent more from invading her kitchen, bedrooms and the living room of her home.

Timeline of city inspections of Sedricia Tinsley’s apartment

May 19, 2020: When the mice kept eating food in bags on her kitchen counter, burrowed into her couch, and left dozens of rodent droppings in her daughter’s dresser, she called the city to report the infestation to code enforcement. It had the power to issue a violation and even a fine to penalize the landlord if the problem was not fixed. She thought that would work, but it didn’t.

Tinsley’s first call to report a mice infestation to the city of Jacksonville was made on May 19 2020. According to code enforcement documents of completed inspections obtained by the ITEAM, code enforcement didn’t actually inspect her apartment until June 11. At that time, the inspector’s notes indicate he cited the property for rodent infestation as well as a failure to repair the bathroom ceiling and wall, and a damaged bathroom cabinet.

Aug. 5, 2020: The same inspector returned to Tinsley’s apartment to see if the infestation and other repairs had been completed. He actually found more violations during that inspection. The report states, “cited property for numerous violations”. His notes also indicate, “the rodent infestation is considerable with the tenant’s furniture being damaged by the rodents. Four live rodents were observed behind the couch cushions, during the inspection, but unable to photograph.”

Sept. 10, 2020: An inspector returns to Sedricia Tinsley’s apartment. His notes: “adding additional violations. Few items have been completed. Adding kitchen ceiling, a bathroom sink not secured. Spoke to office and advised. They stated they have been treating and repairs are in progress.” It has now been nearly 4 months since Sedricia Tinsley first reported a mice infestation inside her apartment and the property manager has failed to do anything to substantially rid the apartment of rodents. No fine is issued, no penalties mentioned in the inspector’s notes.

Oct. 14, 2020: The same inspector returns more than a month later and writes in his report: “violations remain. Rodent infestation and bathroom walls soft and leaking. Spoke to management. Allowed two-week extension.”

Oct. 29, 2020: It appears the other violations have been repaired inside the apartment where Sedricia Tinsley lives with her children, except the rodent infestation. The inspector writes, “severe case with dropping everywhere in abundance. Rodents chewing furniture and has video of several mice inside trash can. No traps or treatment visible at today’s visit. Found several holes and ways mice can get through. Sending to code board.”

Jan. 14, 2021: It takes nearly 2½ months for Sedricia Tinsley’s case to appear before a special magistrate. The magistrate presides over code enforcement disputes between tenants and property managers. The magistrate can also issue a court order to fine a landlord for failing to correct code violations. We do not know why there was a delay from Oct. 29, 2020 to Jan. 14, 2021, for the board to hear Sedricia Tinsley’s case. But the code enforcement inspection report, indicates the special magistrate did not order any fine or issue any penalty against the landlord for failing to rid the young mother’s apartment of rodents, instead the landlord was given another 30 days to get rid of the mice infesting Tinsley’s apartment.

Feb. 18, 2021: A little more than a month after the 30-day order to correct was issued, an inspector returned to Tinsley’s apartment. He wrote: ‘Violations remain. Witnessed mouse droppings and mice in glue traps on the premisis (sic). Posted contact card on leasing office door. Continue to fine hearing.”

March 2, 2021: Another month passed, the inspector returned to Hilltop Village apartments and handed the violation notice to the receptionist at the property management office.

March 18, 2021: The code enforcement officer presents the case to the special magistrate. The property manager also attended the hearing. The magistrate issues another 30-day order to correct. No fines. No penalties. Just more time given to correct the mice infestation.

Now, 359 days after first reporting a mice infestation inside her apartment, Sedricia Tinsley was still waiting for another code enforcement hearing. To date, the landlord has not been fined or penalized by code enforcement for a mice infestation inside her apartment.

My request for an interview with the division chief of the city of Jacksonville’s municipal code enforcement unit has been denied twice. No one from the city has provided any explanation as to why the city office responsible for making sure landlords provide a safe and healthy environment for tenants failed to hold the owner of Hilltop Village apartments responsible for the mice infestation in Sedricia Tinsley’s apartment.

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.

The I-TEAM has spoken with more than a dozen tenants. We have discovered 13 of the 14 buildings on the property have a mice problem or an infestation. As a result of our first News4Jax investigative report on Hiltop Village, the city ordered an inspection of all apartments on the property. While not all inspections have been completed, due to limited access to all the apartments, 100 code violations have been issued against the property owner so far.

Sen. Marco Rubio saw our report and sent two of his investigators to interview tenants with whom we had spoken. After those interviews, the Senator sent a letter to HUD’s secretary demanding an investigation. We learned Hilltop Village apartments have not been inspected since 2015. It should have been inspected in 2017, but was not. HUD has provided no explanation to the ITEAM about why this did not occur. But, as a result of our story, an inspection has been ordered and is scheduled to occur starting as soon as tomorrow.

City Councilwoman Ju’Coby Pittman is now demanding that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development shut down the property, based on what she saw when she accompanied code enforcement inspectors last week. Click here to read her letter to HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson’s team met Saturday with some of the tenants to interview them about the rodents and living conditions at Hilltop Village apartments. He has called on Mayor Curry to immediately relocate the residents while the infestation is remedied. Mayor Lenny Curry’s spokeswoman, Nikki Kimbleton, sent us an email statement in response to the congressman’s request: “Unfortunately as a City, we do not have the resources to move that number of people to another location. As this is a federally and state-funded housing complex in Rep Lawson’s district, we are confident he will be able to located temporary assistance from the state and federal level while we perform the roles we are tasked -- code compliance.”

If you live at the Hilltop Village apartments and have a mice problem, please send your images to Jennifer Waugh: jwaugh@wjxt.com.

About the Author:

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