The treatment of residents at Bayside Villas is “uncalled for,” U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said in a letter sent to Attorney General Pam Bondi on Thursday.
Specifically pointing to 91-year-old Aliene Cox, who has lived in the Palmetto apartment complex for 24 years before being told her lease wouldn’t be renewed, Rubio called on Bondi to “investigate this matter as a consumer protection issue.”
“An investigation into the unfair treatment of these tenants and any violations of their rights is a necessary step for corrective action,” Rubio said. “With your involvement, we can stop the unfair and deceptive business practices that are taking place at Bayside Villas and ensure its residents are treated with the fairness and respect they deserve.”
In the letter, Rubio details residents’ complaints of unlivable conditions, inconsistent enforcement of the complex’s car towing policy, discrimination and threats to refuse renewals or evict without probable cause.
“This kind of treatment is uncalled for and appears to be a breach of the landlord’s responsibilities and a violation of these individuals’ rights,” Rubio said. “The safety of tenants and their families at apartment complexes such as Bayside Villas is a top priority for me. In this case, it appears residents are being taken advantage of, and someone must be held accountable.”
Late Thursday, Bondi’s office said they had just received the letter.
“We take the matter seriously and will be reviewing it,” said Whitney Ray, director of media relations in the attorney general’s office.
Rubio’s office began looking into complaints about the Palmetto apartments after the Bradenton Herald’s first reports last month. Bayside Villas resident Barbara Williams said Rubio’s office staff has been at the apartments and about 14 residents have completed consent forms, which gives his office permission to contact the federal agency on the residents’ behalf.
“Everybody put their concerns,” Williams said. “They are considered federal formal complaints. This time they actually have it on paper.”
On Thursday afternoon, an official with Manatee County Housing Authority was out at the apartment complex, inspecting the apartment of a resident who receives Section 8 vouchers from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to pay for their housing.
With no defects, Willie “Mr. Jack” Davis’ apartment passed its inspection Thursday, according to the Manatee County Housing Authority inspector.
“I have no deficiencies to write down,” Brenda Lovett told Davis after completing the “Housing Quality Standards, Quality Control inspection,” which is a requirement by HUD since Davis receives Section 8 vouchers to pay for his housing. “It passes the standard of HUD. Decent, safe, affordable housing.”
In the two days leading up to Thursday’s inspection, Bayside Villas employees were in Davis’ apartment making “necessary repairs to unit,” according to a Dec. 12 letter notifying Davis, who received a letter from Manatee County Housing Authority on Dec. 5 about the inspection.
“All of a sudden, when everything comes in the paper, then she comes in here,” Davis, 73, said sitting outside his apartment after the inspection.
Lovett said she notified property owner Robert Goodman as well as the tenant that they were coming to complete the inspection ahead of time.
“That’s standard procedure,” Lovett said.
The Herald has been reporting on the “deplorable” conditions found at Bayside Villas, which is just off 20th Lane East in Palmetto, including residents who say they’ve been told their leases will not be renewed because they talked to the media.
“They are mainly messing with us,” Davis said in November. “Most everything here, I do myself. You can’t get them to do a dog-gone thing. They don’t try to do nothing for us.”
During Thursday’s inspection, Lovett began on the outside of Davis’ apartment before inspecting the inside, going from the kitchen to the living room to the bathroom to the bedroom.
“That’s not a requirement of HUD,” Lovett said as she walks through the apartment as Davis pointed out an issue. “That’s called cosmetic.”
Lovett inspected the unit’s air conditioning, “even though they are not required in Florida to give you air,” she said.
As in the summer, when Davis’ apartment was last inspected, Lovett said, “This unit passes. It’s eligible for HUD money.”
After Williams went on a rant about the conditions at Bayside Villas and lack of enforcement taking place, Lovett said, “I can’t do that job because that’s a county commissioner’s job,” adding that they’ve been asking the commissioners for years to have inspections.
Manatee County Commissioner Charles Smith has been an advocate for the residents in Bayside Villas and other fair housing issues in the county.
“I don’t see any teeth when we send this to HUD that we have enforcement,” Smith said of the county’s Assessment of Fair Housing Plan during Tuesday’s commission meeting. “These people can’t wait five years. They can’t wait until October. We have a responsibility to deal with this issue now. ...What I don’t see is any teeth being able to back that up. It’s just another plan.”