JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – City inspectors found code violations or safety issues in 163 of 400 units during two days going through a troubled Westside apartment complex. These include unsanitary conditions, leaking plumbing, holes in the walls, broken bathtubs and showers, improper wiring, structurally deficient stairs, faulty smoke detectors, and concerns about carbon monoxide.
There were multiple violations in some of Eureka Gardens' units, but the city won't have a full list of what inspectors found during the two-day sweep until later in the week.
Some of the units were not inspected because no one was home or the tenant did not want a city inspector in the unit.
Inspectors walked door-to-door Monday, inspecting units that they did not get to Friday when police, the fire marshal and health officials made a sweep of the complex. The inspections came after weeks of residents complaining about deplorable living conditions.
The president of the tenant association said the front office stopped accepting rent Monday and the city and Red Cross were making plans to relocate residents if some of the units were condemned, but relocation was not necessary.
"We're working with our federal partners," Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis said Monday. "
In addition to the citations that will be issued to the property owner, two citations were written to tenants and seven junk vehicles were found. The fire marshal's office also found repairs or safety updates that need to be made to all 400 units, including installing carbon monoxide detectors, fixing faulty smoke detectors, fixing windows, repairing stairs and having them inspected, inspecting pilot lights in stoves, and installing a lock box in every building to store a key for fire officials to access gas heaters in case of an emergency.
Councilman Dennis met with Congresswoman Corinne Brown and spoke with HUD about the multiple violations and public safety concerns in the units.
During that meeting, Dennis requested a thorough federal inspection of all 400 units at Eureka Gardens and on Monday he told News4Jax the agency met those requests. At the tenant association meeting residents' wrote a response to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, after the department asked for more specifics on ten of their 13 complaints.
The goal of the tenant association was to compile even more of their stories to prove their case to housing and urban development and also hear from the city councilman of their district assuring them that the city has their best interest at heart.
"They are 100 percent on board and they're going to inspect all 400 units. As you know when they originally inspected, it was only 24. It was a random 24 units out of the 400. We know now that that's unacceptable. so they pledged their support and they'll be on the ground very soon," Dennis said.
Last week the tenant association wrote a letter to HUD outlining 13 issues in the complex and HUD responded by asking for specifics on 10 of those concerns. So Monday night, residents like Michelle Clark met for a second time to include more of their stories and even alleged threats by management.
"I'm looking around and seeing these other people getting these notices for what? Ten-day notices to vacate if you don't comply by their rules, they'll evict you. If you come to a meeting, you're gone," Clark said.
"It's like when you ask them to fix something, they'll come in there and they'll look at everything and they'll just leave and never come back." Bresha said. They don't do their job. They don't do nothing. The way we live, is basically how are being treated... The way our apartments look."
Councilman Dennis said his office is now flooded with phone calls from tenants at other apartments also owned by Global Ministries Foundation. After the findings at Eureka Gardens, he's requesting a thorough inspection of Cleveland Arms and Washington Heights.
And he said the issues aren't only concerning the tenants, these issues affect every taxpayer in the city.
"When those residents get sick they go to the doctor, who pays for it? We do. Taxpayers in Jacksonville. When there is crime over here or someone has to call rescue, rescue comes out, who pays for it? The taxpayers here in Jacksonville," Dennis said.
Dennis said that the federal inspection by HUD will happen very soon and that it could be within the next two to a week.
While the city said the full list of citations won't be released for several days, News4Jax was given a list of the largest numbers of violations:
Code enforcement citations:
1. Ceiling in unsanitary conditions
NOTE: There were no citations for mold but mold is not a code violation.
Fire marshal violations:
The woman living in the unit with the collapsed ceiling said it's gotten progressively worse.
"When I first moved in here, it was up all the way up there," Ahja Jordan said. "Then in February it dropped again and it's been like this."
In another unit, leaking gas was found Monday. The fire marshal found a stove wasn't installed properly and gas was escaping from a pipe and filling the home.
On Friday, at least two city councilmen went into units with inspectors. One apartment was in such disrepair that City Councilman Sam Newby asked Mayor Lenny Curry to come see the conditions for himself Friday. The mayor said the conditions were heartbreaking.
People who live in the complex said they've dealt with a strong odor of gas. The fire marshal confirmed there is a major carbon monoxide concern at the complex. Sources told News4Jax that the fire marshal will officially cite the property owner, who will have to fix the problem immediately or face fines.
The Federal Housing Administration said the apartment passed inspection just two months ago.
The property owner, Rev. Richard Hamlet of the Global Ministries Foundation, has not returned repeated phone calls from News4Jax since Friday.
Last week before the inspection sweep, Hamlet told News4Jax that he was happy with the improvements made at the apartment complex and that millions of dollars have gone into repairs. Hamlet also said he deserves every penny of his near half-million-dollar salary to operate 61 low-income housing units like these in eight states. He owns five other complexes in Jacksonville.
Leaky AC units garner state attention
News4Jax previously reported that residents believe the mold and mildew in their apartments are the result of improperly installed air conditioning units that can be seen leaking throughout the complex.
Residents said they were forced to use the property manager's husband, Mark Garrard, who is not a licensed contractor in the state of Florida, to install the AC units.
Residents said they were forced to sign an air-conditioning addendum as the only way they were able to get AC installed in their apartments.
It reads, "Air conditioners must be installed by the contractor approved by this property." Checks show that tenants paid Garrard $50 to install an AC unit.
The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation confirmed that Garrard is not a licensed contractor with the state.
Neither is the business that his wife said he runs, Garrard Construction.
Holly Garrard told News4Jax last week that her husband is no longer installing the units.
The report caught the attention of the state business and professional regulation department, which wants to hear from tenants affected and plans to further investigate labor done on the property by Mark Garrard.
News4Jax has sent repeated phone calls to the owner of the property and have not heard back.