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Lakeland family says management won’t give belongings back after fire

Polk County

LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – Jamie Jesmain says she’s still in shock, left heartbroken by what happened.

She and her family lost everything recently in a fire. 

To add insult to injury, Jamie says there’s more heartache. She claims the way she and her family were treated by Arbor Glen Apartment management in North Lakeland was “heartless” and disrespecful.

“Angry, very angry, sad,” Jesmain sobbed. “And, it’s not just me, I’m a mom, you’re messing with my kids’ stuff and my kids’ emotions and I have a problem with that.”

The Jesmain family, along with other Arbor Glen residents, lost everything in a fire exactly one month ago on March 11 at their complex. 

Lakeland Fire Department investigators would later determine what started the fire. They believe it was a screw or nail driven through an electrical wire. Investigators contend that over time, the exposed wire was compromised and a spark from that wire then developed into a massive, destructive blaze.

24 units of the apartment building are now unlivable, according to the Lakeland Fire Department, deemed “structurally unsound” back in March.

People were not allowed back in to see if they can salvage any of their belogings. “Until it’s made structurally safe we’re not going to allow anybody to go in. It’s just not worth taking the chance to get hurt or losing their life due to structural instability,” said Lakeland Assistant Fire Chief Rick Hartzog.

That was a month ago.

Ever since then, Jesmain and her family have been trying to retrieve their personal items. They were crushed when they said they were told by management, “their crap would end up in a dumpster.”

Jesmain says the night of the fire, she and other residents were encouraged to sign paperwork, under duress, that would ultimately forfeit their possessions.  “Basically, it said, whatever is in there is theirs because you signed it. But, I definitely signed it under duress,” Jamie told WFLA 8 On Your Side.

Meanwhile, apartment management described the fire “as a devastating loss,” promising that they’re “here to help in any way we can.”

Residents were told by regional manager Tammie Dulap, “The structural integrity of your unit has been compromised. It is not and will not be safe to enter the unit to retrieve your belongings at any time. While we know you were hoping for better news, your safety will always be our first priority.”

Jesmain and her family describe the experience as “a nightmare.” She says the items inside are not about the money, but rather, the memories.

The family has hired an attorney and is considering filing a lawsuit.

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