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Renter says faulty air conditioner repair sent father to the hospital

Maintenance man cut pipe releasing Freon
Clark family.jpg
Posted at 10:57 AM, May 21, 2021

NEW PORT RICHEY, FL — A Pasco County renter says a faulty air conditioner repair by her apartment’s maintenance man landed her father in the hospital. She says recent transfers in the property’s ownership have caused confusion over who’s responsible.

Morse Clark, who suffers COPD and is bed-bound, was inside the apartment earlier this week when he began suffering respiratory distress.

The alarm on his oxygen machine began going off, leading his family to dial 9-1-1 and call for help.

“We had to have his oxygen all the way up to five and he’s only on three liters and we had to also turn on one of his tanks,” Clark’s daughter, Melissa Davis said.

Davis says the crisis started when their air conditioner broke down and her nine-unit complex’s maintenance man called an air conditioning company, who came out to diagnose the problem.

“They said the unit was shot. I needed a whole new unit,” Davis said.

“They cut the pipe and let all the Freon out of the tank”

She says later that day, the maintenance man and his friend returned and tried to repair the unit themselves.

“They’re not certified in that. They’re not an air conditioning company,” Davis said. “They cut the pipe and let all the Freon out of the tank. They didn’t have a reclaim unit.”

Davis says some of the Freon came inside her house and triggered her father’s respiratory issues.

Paramedics responded and rushed Clark to the hospital, where he remains.

“My dad is in the end-stage of COPD and is at North Bay Hospital fighting to stay alive because of all this,” Davis said.

Davis says her four-year-old son also had to go to the emergency room because the leaked refrigerant bothered his asthma.

“He was complaining about a headache, burning eyes, the burning of his chest,” Davis said.

The doctor gave him a note instructing him not to sleep in the apartment for a week.

“I have no place to stay. We’re jumping from my husband’s friend’s house to friend’s house because we can’t stay here,” Davis said.

She says she contacted the I-Team after she said her maintenance man stopped returning her calls and texts.

Ownership documents list investment groups, land trusts and other LLCs

Public records show her complex was sold to an investors group last month and Davis says she doesn’t know the new owners.

The owner of the company is listed as a land trust, which doesn’t have to be registered with the state.

That land trust is managed by two other limited liability corporations, which the Florida Secretary of State’s website shows are located in the Miami area.

We eventually tracked down the property manager who said the maintenance man and his friend did nothing wrong when they attempted the repair.

The manager told the I-Team that the new owners plan to replace the faulty air conditioner as soon as possible, but because of the high demand for air conditioner repairs this week, they’ve been delayed in finding a company to do the job.

He says the owners are still evaluating all the maintenance needs at the complex they recently purchased and plan to address those issues in the near future.

Records show the apartments were built in 1987 and have been transferred five times, twice in April.

Incident reported to EPA

Florida state law does not require landlords to provide air conditioning.

But the EPA prohibits individuals from “knowingly venting refrigerants while maintaining, servicing, repairing, or disposing of AC and refrigeration equipment,” according to their website regarding the safe disposal of Freon.

Davis reported the discharge to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

She says it was the least she could do for her dad.

“Knowing that their neglect and carelessness put him there and now he’s fighting to stay alive is heartbreaking,” Davis said.

The Florida Bar has important information about tenants’ rights in the state of Florida and a free referral service for attorneys in Florida counties.

If you have a story you’d like the I-Team to investigate, email us at adam@abcactionnews.com.