HUD confirms it has not inspected apartment that caught fire in nearly 4 years

No HUD inspection of fire damaged high-rise apartment since 2014

The Department of Housing and Urban Development confirms it has not inspected Jacksonville Townhouse Apartments in nearly four years.

The Section 8 housing for seniors caught fire Monday morning, displacing about 200 people.

Earlier this week, HUD would only tell Action News Jax that there was no documentation in the system of an inspection this year, suggesting that the documentation may have accidentally been left out.

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On Friday, HUD confirmed no inspection happened at all in 2017.

That means HUD has not inspected the building since February 2014.

The building was due for inspection this year, but a HUD spokesman said inspectors decided to postpone it because management planned to renovate the building.

Inspectors felt it would be more effective to inspect after renovation.

On Thursday, an Action News Jax Investigation uncovered that asbestos was discovered in the building during fire cleanup.

“They’re not going to let us in the building until the asbestos has been cleared out. And that’s a tedious process,” said displaced tenant Pam Sands.

Sands stayed at an American Red Cross shelter for several days before Jacksonville Townhouse Apartment’s managing company, Cambridge Management, put her up in a hotel.

Sands said the asbestos is just one more thing she has to worry about.

"It's a product that creates a contamination within your lung linings and within your abdomen," said
Atlas Inspections and Construction Consulting owner Jim Cocuzza.

Cocuzza said the presence of asbestos in a home does not necessarily mean someone is going to get sick.

It’s when that asbestos is disturbed -- for example, during a fire -- that it becomes a hazard.

“Asbestos isn’t dangerous to you until the fine fibers that it’s actually made of comes airborne. It’s those particles that become violent to your system,” Cocuzza said.

A licensed asbestos abatement contractor told Action News Jax that, depending on the scope of the asbestos problem at Jacksonville Townhouse Apartments, it could cost management hundreds of thousands of dollars and take more than a year to clean up.

Cambridge Management spokesperson Katelynn DeSart would not answer Action News Jax’s questions about how widespread the asbestos is, but said in an email, “Asbestos remediation will continue aggressively until we are completely satisfied our residents will be safe and comfortable upon return to their homes. We remain hopeful that all residents will be back in their homes within a few weeks.”

“I think that everybody just needs to be positive and to know that they’re not in any immediate risk,” Cocuzza said.

Jacksonville Fire Marshal Chief Kevin Jones said he’s still investigating whether all of the fire alarms in the apartment building went off during the fire. He said he went back to the apartment Friday, but no one from the management company was there to answer his questions.

The building had a broken fire pump.

The Fire Marshal’s Office instructed Cambridge Management in a Dec. 1 email to either evacuate or start an hourly fire watch after inspectors discovered that broken fire pump.

Jones told Action News Jax that the building’s management was supposed to keep a log of the fire watch until the fire pump was fixed.

Jones said that log should have included who conducted the required hourly patrol, and when it was conducted.

Jones said apartment management was not able to provide any such documentation.