Displaced residents from apartment fire frustrated with landlord

TOWN N' COUNTRY, Fla. - First, residents have to deal with an apartment fire, now frustration is mounting with their landlord.

Several displaced residents at Harbour Walk Apartments in Town N' Country were handed the keys to a different available unit in the complex, but now they may have to give the keys back.

The fire occurred Saturday night and destroyed at least eight units. The fire department says nearly 30 people were displaced.

"It's horrendous. It's shameful," said Ch'lon Romeo, one of the residents displaced by the fire. "She told me plain and simple that you need to sign the lease or you need to turn the keys in at the end of the day on Wednesday."

Romeo says she and others were told by the landlord that they need to leave the new housing made available to them unless they sign a new lease.

Manager of the complex, Christine Weiss, later told ABC Action News that Florida law requires residents to sign a lease if they stay in an apartment, otherwise you would be squatting.

Beyond that, Romeo says the complex is also pressing tenants to sign a waiver of liability saying they won't sue for damages from the fire.

"It's beyond a slap in the face. It's like you go on and deal with what you have to do but I have money to make," she said.

Legal expert Martin Lawyer, with Bay Area Legal, says it may be time for some of those tenants to get an attorney.

"For me, it's a 100 percent," he said. "I would never recommend to anyone to ever waive liability."

Bay Area Legal is a legal service for people with low income.

Lawyer said the apartment complex should be applauded for at least allowing displaced residents to move into available units, but they cant' turn around and immediately kick them out.

"The landlord can not evict the tenants from the new, temporary units without giving proper notice," he said.

At least seven days notice, in writing, he added.

Besides, if they try to evict, the process takes at least a week.

It's a lot of stress for Romeo, a single mother who is worried about finding clothes, belongings, and a new place to call home.

"I don't want to be somewhere where i can't be treated like a person. It's not fair," she said.

The manager of the property said they are doing everything possible to assist the residents who are displaced, but said they never pressured anyone to sign a waiver of liability.

She said the tenants who think that are mistaken.

Weiss said the contractor who is demolishing the damaged building did ask the apartment complex to pass out liability forms that say the tenants must get all heir belongings out of the building before Saturday. Those who fail to do so, can not sue for damaged property after that window expires.

As of Thursday evening, investigators were still narrowing in on the cause.

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