Families: Complaints about piled-high garbage, raw sewage ignored

Tenants on Jacksonville's Westside see results after I-TEAM asks questions

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The I-TEAM is getting results for tenants of a Jacksonville apartment building who called us for help with complaints about disgusting conditions in their community.

Residents, who don't want to be identified, sent us pictures of raw sewage seeping out of the apartment building on Conant Avenue on the city's Westside, a dumpster overflowing with garbage, as well as photos of plumbing problems.

They tell us while they pay their rent, their complaints to the property management company, Upside Management, have been ignored.

When the I-TEAM arrived at the apartments on Conant Avenue, we could smell it. It was easy to find one of the sources of that odor: a puddle of feces and urine near the sidewalk people use daily.

"This has been sitting like this for two weeks," a resident said of the disgusting conditions at the apartment complex.

The same resident showed us pictures from inside his own apartment, which showed plumbing problems that may be connected to the raw sewage leak.

"It's not right to have to live this way," he said.

Pictures from tenants also showed garbage scattered everywhere, apparently thrown on the ground because the dumpster was overflowing.

It was bad the day we were there, but residents say it's been even worse.

The tenant showed us a picture of what it looked like before the dumpster was recently emptied. He said it had been in that condition for two weeks.

"We don't want to invite someone over here and it looks like this," a resident said, pointing to the trash still scattered. "They will think we're living in trash."

Another tenant said a mattress seen on the ground by the dumpster had been there for more than a month.

"It's not fair for us and then at the end of the day they want rent," he said. "I feel like we're being ignored. I get no response and I'm not the only one. There are other tenants who have reached out and they get no response either."

The I-TEAM could not find a local address for the management company, Upside Management, but we found out where tenants drop off their rent checks and went there to see if we could get some answers.

We knocked on the door and discovered a property manager was inside in a meeting. Through the door, here is what we said:

"The problems that (tenants) are having there, do you have time to talk with me. I see you are meeting with some people? 

No, not right now? Ok.

There's a lot of trash. Have you seen the pictures?

There's some real problems over there so I'd like to talk to you when you're done."

The I-TEAM agreed to wait outside. About 10 minutes later, the property manager emerged and immediately asked us to stop recording -- which by law, we have to do when on private property.

The property manager told us off-camera that we need to call the city of Jacksonville about the problems and that Upside Management had "no comment." 

We questioned why the city would be responsible for maintenance problems on private property, but she would not explain.

The I-TEAM contacted the city and a spokesperson confirmed it is not the city's responsibility -- releasing this statement:

"Please be advised that the City does not provide waste removal service to multi-unit residential complexes of 5 or more units. It is the responsibility of the property owner to secure and maintain waste removal services at the referenced address.  Municipal Code & Compliance Division (MCCD) does have the properties at 7166 and 7154 Conant Ave cited for nuisance conditions related to the dumpster area. The two properties are twin complexes with the same owner and share one dumpster enclosure.

Within five hours of our visit to her office, plumbers showed up at the apartment building and spent two days working on the plumbing. The trash that was scattered all over was cleaned up, too.

Tenants tell us problems with the water pressure and plumbing are now fixed as a result of our conversation with the property manager.

We're also told a city inspector was spotted at the apartments, but we have not heard back from the mayor's office about specifically why that inspector was there.

Who is responsible?

According to Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, Florida law requires landlords in Duval County to comply with Jacksonville’s Property Safety and Maintenance Code. This means, among other things:

1. The roof must not leak;
2. The walls must be weather-tight, and in good repair;
3. The stairs must be safe for normal use and maintained in good repair;
4. Windows and doors must be basically weather-tight, water-tight, rodent-proof, and kept in
sound working condition, and outside doors must have proper locks;
5. Window panes cannot have cracks and holes, and outside windows must have screens;
6. Inside floors, walls, ceilings must be basically rodent-proof and kept in sound condition and
good repair, and should be safe;
7. The house or apartment must have hot water, which is connected to the kitchen and bathroom
sinks, tub or shower;
8. All houses or apartments must have a flush toilet in good working condition;
9. When cooking and heating equipment are provided by the landlord, they must be safely
installed and in good working order;
10. There must be adequate garbage disposal facilities or garbage storage containers;
11. Every habitable room must have at least two separate floor or wall electric outlets and,
additionally, every kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and hallway must have a ceiling or wall-type
fixture, or an outlet controlled by a wall switch near the entrance to the room; and
12. All electrical systems must be in good repair and good working order.

Jacksonville Area Legal Aid says your landlord is also required to comply with your lease (if you have a written lease), and your lease may add to your landlord’s responsibilities under the Jacksonville code.

READ: Your legal rights

There are things under the law that a landlord is not responsible to the tenant for. They include:

1. Conditions caused by the negligence or wrongful action of the tenant, a member of the tenant’s family, or another person on the property with the tenant’s consent; or
2. Maintaining a mobile home or other structure that is owned by the tenant.

Also, Jacksonville Area Legal Aid says if you rent a single-family house or a duplex (not an apartment) and if you have a written lease, your landlord may not have all of the responsibilities listed above. If you rent a single-family house or a duplex, it is very important for you to read your lease carefully because it may require you, the tenant, to make any repairs that are needed during the term of your lease. (But if you live in an apartment, the landlord may not shift his/her responsibilities to you in the lease.)

What can you do about it?

Jacksonville residents with problems with plumbing, garbage or something similar at their apartment or rental properties can do the following things:

  • If you think it's a violation of the city of Jacksonville's property maintenance laws, you can call the city's Municipal Code Compliance Division at 255-7000.
  • You can request an inspection of your home by calling 630-CITY (2489). If the city finds violations, it can take action which can lead to the landlord fixing the issues. Jacksonville Legal Aid says you should always ask the city for a copy of its inspection report so that you will have documentation of any code violations. It is also a good idea to take your own pictures of the problem areas and make a note of the date and time when you took the pictures.

About the Authors:

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