JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – More people who live at an Arlington apartment complex came forward Friday, saying they've had repeated septic system issues that have flooded their homes.
After Michael Sears told News4Jax Thursday that his apartment at Royal Estates was condemned following weeks of septic water flooding and sludge coming up out of the bathtub, other tenants called the newsroom about similar problems.
According to management, a troubled septic system has repeatedly caused flooding.
Sears and his family had to leave their home. But it's not the first time a family has been forced out of that specific unit. Dannette Garland and her family lived there in 2015. Garland told News4Jax on Friday that they had to relocate to another unit in a different building because of the same issues.
"You could be at work all day and it could rain. You come in your house, and there's water in the bedrooms, bathrooms and your living room," she said. "After all those hours, coming home to clean up water -- and the smell of the water -- having to get it out of your house, that's not what you want to deal with, but that's basically what we had to deal with."
Now, a family living in an apartment across the hallway from that unit has also been forced out. The property managers said it's no longer safe to live there.
Shannon Johnson, a mother of five children, has lived in the apartment across the hall for nearly three years. But when her neighbor's apartment was condemned Thursday by the city because of septic water flooding the unit, Johnson received a letter from the front office, saying it was time for her and her family to also vacate because their apartment is not safe to live in.
"This is the worst it has been. Usually when it just rains, we have to worry about the apartment flooding. But now it just does it automatically," Johnson said. "Whatever's wrong with the system just brings it in."
Johnson on Friday took News4Jax inside her home and pointed out the problem areas.
"It comes so much and so fast. It comes out the bathroom, around and pools," she said. "Every time he flushes the toilet, that's when it leaks."
Johnson said they burn candles to deal with the smell.
"It pools all the way over here. It just runs and it fills up this closet," she said. "These are mats that have been destroyed. These are replacement ones."
Next to her patio, hundreds of maggots could be seen in a pool of smelly sludge from overflowed septic system. The sludge was also in the grass where people walk and children play.
The management company said it has brought in a plumber to fix the problem, which the owners said they inherited four years ago from the previous owner who did not disclose septic system issues.
"We've been working together with the city. It's been quite some time now," said Brian Vliot, assistant manager. "This has been a problem that was inherited, so we have until Nov. 15 to correct the situation. We're really working diligently and we're trying to urge the tenants to let them know it's not something that can be fixed overnight."
Managers said documents show that affected tenants will be getting their deposits back. They also had receipts showing that tenants were put up in hotels. But now it's time to go because it's no longer safe.
Right now, Johnson said, her biggest problem is that she hasn't found a new place to move. She and her family have until Monday evening to vacate.
Renters need to know their rights
When it comes to septic water flooding an apartment, renters need to know that although they don't own the property, they still have rights, which allow them to withhold rent until certain issues are resolved.
Garland, who previously lived in the same apartment as the Searses, said the new unit that she moved to doesn't flood, but it does have issues with septic backup.
"The toilet makes a 'gloot gloot gloot gloot' sound. You're like, 'What is that?"' she said. "We've come home to our apartment smelling like sewage."
Garland said she didn't know what to do or what her rights as a renters are.
Florida law allows tenants to withhold rent payment when a rental property doesn't meet basic structural, health and safety standards. But before withholding rent, tenants should first make sure it's justified, which includes:
- Making sure the type of repair requires withholding rent and
- Giving notice to the landlord about the amount of time the landlord has to fix the problem.
- There can also be limit of how much rent may be withheld.
In this case, management has gone as far as to return deposits to people who have been affected and pretty much let them out of their lease.