Uncertainty continues for Jacksonville high-rise residents displaced by fire

Management says it hopes some residents can return home end of next week

By Elizabeth Campbell - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Uncertainty continues for displaced residents nearly two weeks after a fire at a high-rise senior living facility on Jacksonville's Southside.

Management is still placing many of the more than 200 residents of the Jacksonville Townhouse in various hotels across town after the fire broke out Dec. 18 at the complex on Philips Highway. But as of Thursday, residents are still uncertain when they will be able to return home, and some are not sure where their pets are.

The state fire marshal's office told News4Jax that the fire started in one apartment on the eighth floor and the blaze was contained to that one unit, but there's smoke damage throughout  the eighth floor and water damage throughout several floors of the building. 

Wet vacuums are being used to dry up water and environmental tests are being conducted to make sure there's no mold from the water damage. Asbestos remediation is also underway to make sure the threat of asbestos is removed after trace amounts were later found.

Though Cambridge Management, which operates the Jacksonville Townhouse Apartments, is placing displaced residents in hotels, residents said they still haven't heard when they can return home, which is difficult for Eddie Moore and his 81-year-old mother, who is a dialysis patient.

"I was devastated because, really, my mom is upset, so I have to be in a good mood and (in) high spirits for her to be in a good mood," said Moore, who lives in the complex with his mother. "It's kind of rough because I was getting into depression-type of thing, so I just said, 'Hey, pick yourself up.'"

Moore said he's hearing mixed answers about when they can return home -- some say next week, some say they could be in a hotel for 15 days total. But Moore said that's all hearsay from tenants -- not management, which he wishes would offer more information.

Some residents said they still have pets inside the building. The city told News4Jax it opened a temporary shelter last week for people to keep their pets after the fire, but it has since closed. The Humane Society is not keeping any animals, and the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department said it rescued animals during the fire, but haven't been involved with any since.

Thursday night, management posted an update on the Jacksonville Townhouse website that addressed concerns about pets.

"No pets have been removed to animal shelters without notification of the resident. If you believe that your pet is still in your apartment, please contact the Community Staff immediately to make a plan to be reunited you with your pet," the update reads.

The update includes answers to many residents' questions, including when they will be able to return home.

"The current estimate is that for those apartment homes with the least water and smoke damage, we hope to welcome you back by the end of next week. For those homes with greater damage from smoke and water, we may ask you to relocate to another apartment home on another floor to expedite your return to the building or it may take a week or two longer to restore your apartment. All the timelines are subject to the completion of the work required to satisfy the Fire Marshal that all systems are operational and the building is safe for occupancy. Be assured that if it is necessary to relocate you to a different apartment home, the costs of packing and moving will be paid by the owners and/or insurance," management wrote in the post.

To read the entire update for Jacksonville Townhouse Apartments residents, click here.

Attorney John Phillips, who's representing some of the residents, issued a statement late Thursday evening, which reads in part:

We have been retained by a number of individuals who have been injured or damaged as a result of the fire and neglect at Jacksonville Townhome Apartments. From having no clothes, no needed medicine, lost animals and other breaches in humanity caused by Cambridge Management and its agents, to the lack of information and concern about its residents, hundreds on the first coast are starting the new year off with great pain and problems. 

"We demand Cambridge Management issue immediate refunds to all of the residents of Jacksonville Townhome Apartments for December rent as it was entirely untenantable at the time, cease all efforts at collecting further rent until the residents can safely return, and allow the immediate return of all withheld belongings."

On Friday, management posted an update on the Jacksonville Townhouse Apartments website, saying automatic rent payments have been disabled and giving details about the restoration process.

"Any automatic rent payments residents previously authorized have been turned off.  Once we know when rent will resume, management will notify residents individually and obtain new permission to restart automatic electronic payments.
 
"In the interest of returning residents to their homes as soon as possible, Management has hired additional contractors to expedite restoration and repairs. Our contractors expect to provide us with information next week that will allow us to communicate more specific time frames for individual apartments," the post reads.

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