JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Months after U.S. Sen Marco Rubio called on HUD’s secretary to take action following the I-TEAM’s initial investigation into the Eastside Terrace Apartments, the complex and its sister property, Eastside Gardens, failed new inspections from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The I-TEAM initially found mice, roaches and piles of garbage at Eastside Terrace, and our report prompted Rubio to bring his own team in to investigate both properties owned by Andrew Podray.
Rubio’s team witnessed black mold, a pest infestation and crumbling staircases, and Rubio sent a letter to HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge requesting updated Real Estate Assessment Center inspection scores for both of the properties.
The results were not good.
Anything under 60 is a failing grade, and Eastside Terrace Apartments received a score of 6c/100. Eastside Gardens Apartments received a score of 24c/100. Rubio explained that the “c” in the score indicates that life-threatening conditions for tenants were observed during the REAC inspections.
“The fact that the slumlord at Eastside Gardens and Eastside Terrace Apartments has gotten away with forcing tenants to live in ‘life-threatening’ conditions for this long is stomach-churning,” Rubio said in a news release. “Andrew Podray is a slumlord who should be held accountable for his actions. HUD must pursue any and all further enforcement mechanisms necessary to protect the tenants at both properties.”
Podray is currently facing more than $300,000 in civil money penalties for each property, totaling approximately $600,000 because of the scores. If the health and safety issues at the properties are not completely resolved, Rubio said he will urge the HUD to consider further enforcement actions.
In a statement to the I-TEAM, Rubio said: “I will not stop fighting for Florida tenants who’ve suffered in such terrible conditions until they are living in safe and sanitary housing.”
Rubio talked about the complexes in a recent interview with News4Jax, saying he had little sympathy for the owner.
“At the end of the day this is taxpayer money that is helping to subsidize housing,” Rubio said. “And we should not be subsidizing housing in these conditions and no one should be forced to live under these conditions which are frankly Third World and unacceptable for any American because someone is trying to save some money.”
Podray, who has owned the complexes for 13 years, called the action a “political stunt” and said he was “railroaded” in the government inspection and report.
“I’m disappointed with Marco Rubio,” he responded. “I feel that he should have done some research first and reached out to me. I’m not difficult to reach.”
He said the properties have slipped in the past year and a half because of the pandemic. Due to an eviction moratorium, he couldn’t can’t kick out residents even if they don’t follow the rules for upkeep. And he said pest control from unit to unit is difficult with COVID-19 concerns, especially when people were less aware of how it spread.
“So normally if somebody is not cleaning up their apartment or if they have guests that are ‘unwanted,’ we would say ‘look, you’re going to lose your subsidy, we’re gonna go ahead and evict you.’ We could not do that in 2020. So instantly of this bad situation, we have all these people moving into the apartment complex that don’t belong there.”
He described “unwanted” guests as those who move into the complex without a background check and authorization, piggybacking off actual tenants. He pointed out many of the deductions from his HUD score were for violations he considered out of his control.
“Ironically, a lot of the points that I lost had nothing to do with the buildings themselves,” he said. “They actually had to do with the fact that there are some furniture outside of my control in front of a window. Other things that they cited me for or my tenant’s picture frames. If there’s any glass that was cracked on the picture frames, I lost points as a landlord for it. Another thing I lost points for was that they were pots and pans inside of an oven that was not on.”
Podray told News4Jax he replaced the roofs, the washing machines and upped the pest control, spending over $100,000 of his own money. However, fixing these problems will be much more than he can handle, given the small margin he makes. As a result, he said the apartments could be shut down or he could be forced to sell.
“This is not a business model that people should be getting into if they don’t know how to do this,” Rubio said. “Because these are real human beings that are suffering as a result of it.”
Residents said they needed immediate action because their health was at stake.
“I’m glad, I’m glad,” said Rebecca Williams, a long-time resident of Eastside Terrace. “It’s about time. I cough all night in my bedroom.”
“A lot of people don’t want to come out and say anything,” resident Sara Stewart told News4Jax. “I don’t know if they’re scared to say something. Only thing we can do is complain about it and nothing is still getting done.”
Tenants said they’re trying to move but it’s difficult to find another place.
The I-TEAM checked HUD rules: if the complex is shut down or sold, residents will either get to move into another government-subsidized complex or will get vouchers for a different living situation.