TAMPA, Fla. — Residents that went back to their downtown Tampa high-rise apartments at Element Monday said they walked into some really rough conditions.
“Come on this way, this way," Reginald Metu said in a video he recorded two weeks ago as he rushed down the stairs from his apartment on the 23rd floor. Water was rushing through the hallways, apartments, and down the staircase. It was pouring from the ceilings too.
A water main break burst on the 12th and 27th floor, which forced all residents to leave. Many were put up in hotels, including an ABC Action News employee with no idea when they’d get to go back.
Dustin Staggers was on the 31st floor.
“Evacuating from any big building is a mess, it was definitely a mess," he said. “There was a lot of ambiguity about just what was going on.”
Metu showed ABC Action News pictures of what his apartment looked like. You could see baseboards ripped up, carpet still on the ground covered in plastic, cracks in the tile, a board with exposed nails leaning up against a bathroom sink, and while he said the carpet is dry now, he is worried about mold. He told us he refused to move back in, and that the apartment complex extended his hotel stay as they make repairs.
At least two residents told us they saw apartments wide open.
“Other people's units who aren’t 100% lost said that when we walked back into the building yesterday the doors are open to their units and all of the wet stuff is just put on top of their furniture that wasn’t wet.”
Northland, the owners of the building, said they did “open doors to encourage airflow as they dried but implemented additional security patrols during that time to ensure that residents’ belongings were never at risk.”
Many residents are unable to return to their apartments because they were a complete loss. Northland said those renters were offered $1,000 to help with relocation expenses and asked to sign a mutual release to terminate their lease. They are also working with them on relocation and housing options.
“For those transferring to another apartment at Element, we have not made any changes to their leasing terms; these individuals also have first priority to come back to their homes when they have been repaired and inspected with no change to their rent.”
Staggers shared a screen recording he took that seems to show many units that were found to be completely damaged up for rent in a week.
“It’s just bad posture to me," he said. "I understand that this is a business like they have to put people in the building but some of those people's units are being advertised on their website as available starting August 6. So, you’re kicking people out and then you’re putting it on the Element's website."
The Element said they do not have any apartments for rent right now. We shared the screen recording with them and asked if maybe it was a clerical error. They said to us, "While Northland did actively pull the listings from the website on July 21 and are not marketing any apartments for rent, they will look into the matter further as to why some listings are still appearing."
Here is Northland's full statement:
The safety of our residents is our top priority. At no point were the elevators deemed unstable, and we worked with technicians to ensure that repairs were made and they were fully operational, before moving anyone back in. While some apartment doors were left open to encourage airflow as they dried, we implemented additional security patrols during that time to ensure that our residents’ belongings were never at risk. We have been working with the residents whose apartments have been severely impacted by water to make their housing search and move as seamless as possible. Renters that were offered $1,000 to help with relocation expenses were asked to sign a mutual release to terminate their leases; we have extended these individuals’ hotel stays until August 2 and are working with them to identify new housing options. For those transferring to another apartment at Element, we have not made any changes to their leasing terms; these individuals also have first priority to come back to their homes when they have been repaired and inspected with no change to their rent.
Our onsite staff and outside specialists went through every apartment in order to assess damage, immediately dry the spaces and begin repairs. Remediation teams were brought in to assist with those most severely impacted, and every effort was made to protect personal belongings while removing them from the floor to avoid further damage.
While Northland did actively pull the listings from the website on July 21 and are not marketing any apartments for rent, they will look into the matter further as to why some listings are still appearing.