JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – City code enforcement officers responded Monday to multiple complaints of unsafe living conditions at the Franklin Arms Apartments by conducting a surprise inspection of the property.
"We have a standard of living we are allowed to have. We don’t have it right now," resident Patrick Barnes said.
At least a dozen inspectors, accompanied by Jacksonville police officers, arrived early at the complex on Franklin Street, off Jesse Street between A. Philip Randolph and the Martin Luther King Expressway.
Code enforcement officers went door to door, but by late morning only five or six tenants had opened their doors to be inspected. Residents are not required to allow access.
City records show the four-story building, built in 1972, is owned by FLKNARRS LLC out of Austin, Texas.
The property owner, who spoke to News4Jax Monday night on the condition of anonymity, said code enforcement officials visited the property because they were tipped off by a disgruntled ex-employee of the complex.
The property owner said he believed that ex-employee was the former property manager.
The former manager, who also asked not to be identified, denied any involvement. She said she was injured on the job after repeatedly warning the owner about a structural liability.
"I got hurt falling down his dilapidated stairs that he was told several times to fix, and he never fixed them," the former manager said.
The owner told News4Jax the former manager's claim was untrue.
People living in the complex had complained of mold, leaky roofs, rodents and insects. Inspectors found multiple units were unlivable and gave residents one week to find a new place to live. City officials are working on relocating those tenants.
The former manager echoed those complaints.
"Rats, roaches, mold, mice, screaming tenants, and they’re screaming at you because you’re the only person they have to talk to," she said.
As for those complaints, the owner said, "If someone doesn’t want to live there, no one is forcing them to.”
When News4Jax asked the owner if he would live in one of the apartments, he responded, "Yes, if I was on a fixed income."
The owner claimed he's put $500,000 worth of repairs into the complex.
The owner said one of the complaints was from a tenant under eviction, therefore it was discredited. As for the other displaced tenants, he said they're being transferred to other units.
Monday morning, city officials said they're working on relocating those tenants. They've been given a week to find a new home.
Reggie Gaffney, city councilman for the Eastside, said he has had multiple meetings with tenants and has talked to the owner.
"They’re rough," Gaffney said. "They refuse to upgrade these facilities."
Gaffney said U.S. Rep. Al Lawson also got involved, trying to push the owner to make improvements. But since the complex is not federally subsidized housing, there's a limited amount the federal government can do.
"This place makes Eureka Gardens look like there wasn’t a problem," Gary Kleisser said. "This guy has thumbed his nose at JSO, at code enforcement, at the governor."
An apartment complex across the street from Franklin Arms is a federally subsidized housing project and appears from the street to be in considerably better condition.
Complaints from Franklin Arms' residents are not new. Seven years ago, News4Jax heard similar issues.
"I wouldn’t let my dog stay here," one tenant said in 2011.
"There’s rats in here," said another.
On Monday, the property owner dismissed the complaints, saying he's had people living at Franklin Arms for the past 5 or 10 years and he is "doing everything I can for our tenants."