FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Since three fires in a week tore through the Audubon Cove apartments in May, WINK News Call for Action has been on the case. The South Trail Fire Department told us termites caused the fires and then our phones started ringing. A two month WINK News investigation uncovered mold and leaking air conditioner units.
Tenants at the south Fort Myers complex called WINK News to complain about mold and other problems. The complex is just off Six Mile Cypress and it is where many people thought they'd be finding a nice place to live. Now they've told WINK News mold issues and leaking air conditioning units made them sick. They say their management didn't do a thing to fix the problem and the South Trail Fire Department told WINK News the condition of some of these buildings explains those fires.
"We are with WINK, we just wanted to ask you about mold that has been found inside some of the apartments here," said WINK News Investigative reporter Genevieve Judge.
"We don't have any comment, I'm sorry," said management at Audubon Cove.
"We've just got to give some tenants some answers. We've now got six people calling us and there is mold reports and there is pictures of mold," said Judge.
Management inside Audubon Cove told WINK News they had no idea about things like mold growing inside their apartment buildings.
"I'm sorry but I don't want to be on TV and we have no comment. You guys have to leave," said management.
"Can you just tell me are you guys taking care of this or working with the tenants?" said Judge.
"I have no idea what you're talking about," said management.
They also wouldn't talk about gallons of water tenants claim was leaking from air conditioners. But Lillie Clark was adamant to tell us all about it.
"Don't live there at all whatsoever. Don't ever live there because its horrible," said Clark, a former tenant.
Clark told WINK News, it's why she moved out of Audubon Cove when her lease was up last year.
"You rent to have the option to have things be fixed so you don't have to worry about that on your own and they never fixed it," said Clark.
Clark went as far as having her unit tested for mold in 2010, paying out of her own pocket. The test showed two different types of mold were growing in the hallway under the leaking air conditioner. Doctor Seth Schurman is an allergy and asthma doctor in Fort Myers. He isn't treating anyone in this story but says mold spores can become toxic.
"It can cause many problems. It can cause respiratory problems primarily but also eye irritation, nasal irritation," said Dr. Schurman.
"Everyday I had to dump water, I had to live with that, I had, I went to the doctor I think four times that year for respiratory infection," said Clark.
Our investigation also uncovered other tenants with similar complaints. Roommates Lyndsay Tomlinson and Leah Wedl said they broke their lease last month because they said they had enough.
"This is my home and your home is supposed to be your castle. You're supposed to be able to go home and feel safe and not worry about your building burning down or getting sick," said Wedl. "It is green dust not mold, that is a quote that they told us," said Wedl.
Doctor Schurman says conditions like the ones WINK News found at Audubon Cove can lead to mold.
"Mold is going to grow where there is darkness, moisture and heat. So if those three factors are present and there is a leak somewhere in the residence, then more than likely you're going to get mold growth," said Dr. Schurman.
Audubon Cove, formerly known as Georgian Bay East, even has former renters sounding off through online forums. Former tenants have said mold, termites and water leaks were issues in 2009 and 2010. Clark said she called management time and time again, being told her leaky air conditioner would be fixed but it never was.
Clark said she's being charged more than $700 to replace the carpet. She said it's damage from the leaking air conditioning unit.
"I don't want to pay it. Its pointless. If anything, they owe me for what I had to deal with," said Clark.
WINK News tried over and over again to get management to address their customers' concerns. When they wouldn't, we tried maintenance.
"I have a report that says there was mold in one of the apartments here. Is this an issue? Are you helping cleaning up?" said Judge.
"I don't know about that. Any questions, ask in the office please," said a maintenance worker.
When the worker tried to drive away, WINK News showed them pictures of mold and gallons of water being collected from a leaky air conditioning unit.
"Look at the water coming out of the air conditioner here," said Judge.
"The air conditioner, that's normal," said a maintenance worker.
"That's normal for that much water to come out, in gallon jugs like that?" said Judge.
"When the air conditioner drain is clogged, it leaks," said a maintenance worker.
We also tried e-mailing and calling Forest Properties, the corporate office for Audubon Cove, in Massachusetts for weeks. We were hung up on and our e-mails were never returned. At this point we wanted to know if the conditions of the buildings contributed to the fires back in May. South Trail Fire Department Deputy Chief Craig Brotheim told us again, termites have been an issue here and he thinks it's the reason three fires sparked in May.
"It appears that they have some structural problems with termites and the termites, it looks like, were in and around these areas and it created the diversity around the electrical components," said Deputy Chief Brotheim.
But Brotheim also said, now that the burnt building is empty, management is working with them.
"We're waiting for them to get us a report from an electrical engineer and a structural engineer and they're going to rebuild and repair the structure," said Brotheim.
In the end, these tenants say renter beware.
"They say they're going to do things and they took as long as possible to do anything and everything," said Tomlinson.
WINK News did some digging into Forest Properties. They have other properties throughout Florida but didn't have any outstanding issues at their other properties. Audubon Cove did have one complaint with the Better Business Bureau in 2011 and Forest Properties had a complaint with the Massachusetts Attorney General.