Monique Whyte loves having family visit her Haines City apartment. It's the unwanted guests she can’t tolerate – rats.
"I have kids,” she said. “They’re scared of them. They don't want to live there."
Janet Smith, 84, owns the apartments and lives next door. Even the $100 she said she’s spent on rat poison isn’t enough to rid the apartments of the vermin.
City leaders say a non-compliant property owner nearby is to blame for the infestation.
"It has about $320,000 worth of code enforcement liens," Haines City Manager Jonathan Evans said.
Evans met ABC Action News on Tuesday at the abandoned building located at 1214 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
The building has been vacant since 2004, he said, when three hurricanes hit Polk County.
Code enforcement photos taken of the interior show mold, piles of junk and a sinking ceiling.
Living amid the filth are not only rodents but snakes and possums.
Smith said law enforcement officers had no choice but to enter the building when they saw blow flies swarming the property last year.
"We thought someone was dead inside," he said.
All they found were dead rodents.
Since then the infestation has apparently thrived.
"If you get one rat, it's going to create another. You kill that one, it’s going to make another. So it's just a problem," Smith said.
Smith and her tenants noted seeing rats walking the fence line at night.
Gary Wright is listed as the dilapidated building’s owner, according to property appraiser records.
Smith said she has known Wright since he was a little boy and that he inherited the building from his father.
Smith said she's repeatedly offered to help Wright, who now lives in Orlando, clean the property but he has repeatedly declined.
"I've had it. I can't continue," Smith said.
Wright did not immediately return a request from ABC Action News for comment.
Smith and Whyte are asking city leaders to take action.
"We believe we have enough ammunition to proceed forward with foreclosure proceedings," Evans said.
The property is only valued at $32,000, according to Evans.
Evans said fines have been levied against Wright at a rate of about $150 per day.
The city even offered to waive 95 percent of the liens if Wright brings the building up to code, Evans said. Still the property owner has not stepped up.
Evans hopes to acquire the property in the next 45 days and then demolish it. He said it would not be cost effective to make repairs because that would cost in excess of $50,000. Demolishing it and hiring an exterminator would cost $10,000.
The health and safety of surrounding residents is a top priority, Evans said.
Smith and Whyte cannot wait for demolition day. They say they are done dining with unwanted guests and setting traps.
"I need peace!" Smith said.
"I'd like for them to fix it," Whyte added.
Once the building is gone, Evans plans to turn it into additional parking for city offices across the street, partner with Habitat for Humanity to build a home for a needy family or sell the property to an investor.
City leaders are running a title search to see if anyone else has liens on the property. If the search turns up nothing, they can proceed with foreclosure.