The only things left homeless by Tuesday's fire at the Lantana Apartments were the rats and roaches using the abandoned complex as a residence.
But that doesn't mean there aren't victims. Neighbors said they are tired of pests, crime and fires at the blighted property.
A quick walk around the complex shows fire damage at half a dozen or more of the complex's buildings. The abandoned complex was the scene of a murder in 2008 when pizza delivery man Jeremy D. Moore was robbed and shot.
Fire Deputy Chief Cecil Clay said firefighters spotted smoke coming from the area just before 4 p.m. He said firefighters don't know how the blaze started, but it gutted one building and slightly damaged another.
“Almost every one of these buildings has been on fire,” Clay said. “It's a dangerous situation.”
Squatters sometimes set fires in the winter months to stay warm. The apartments are a haven for drug activity, officials say.
Ward 3 City Councilman Larry McAtee represented the area until recent redistricting put the apartments into Ward 1.
McAtee said the city has fought for years with the property's out-of-state owner, who recently entered bankruptcy. But the legal process to condemn and tear down a blighted property can be slow.
“This is a classic example of an out-of-state owner who doesn't care about the quality of a property and has gotten into financial trouble,” McAtee said. “Unfortunately, the neighbors are the ones who suffer.”
Tee Marshall lives at the Oak Wood Town Homes directly south of the abandoned apartments. He said the complex was a problem when he moved in several years ago and has gotten worse.
“There is vagrancy, drugs, other illegal activity,” Marshall said. “There are bugs, roaches, rats. Next time, who knows if the fire might jump across and spread to our buildings.”
Marshall said he's not happy about the situation, but he doesn't expect it to improve. “We've been talking about that place for years,” he said. “Nothing has been done with it.”