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Flooded Tampa highrise owner: We hope to welcome back residents Monday

The city fire chief and construction services manager will need to approve the plan. A cause for the flooding is still not released.
Residents wait at Element Tampa hours after a main water line burst in the tower on July 16. The building owner hopes to have residents back into the building on Monday.
Residents wait at Element Tampa hours after a main water line burst in the tower on July 16. The building owner hopes to have residents back into the building on Monday. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Jul. 23
Updated Jul. 23

TAMPA — Nearly a week after a broken water line forced 500 residents to evacuate Element apartment tower in Tampa, the owner of the downtown highrise announced the company hoped to allow residents to return Monday.

“Crews have been working around the clock since last Friday to get the building ready for occupancy and we are happy to report that all of our elevators are now operational,” Northland Investment Corp. of Newton, Mass., said in a news release Thursday.

Hillary Rodriguez, 22, lives on the 26th floor of the building with her boyfriend. She says she’s been assured through email that she’ll be able to return home soon — as long as consistent water pressure can be obtained.

In the meantime, Rodriguez says she’s been staying at the Marriott Tampa Westshore — one of three hotels offered to residents displaced by flooding. Pets usually aren’t allowed at the Marriott, but the hotel has made an exception for Element residents so Rodriguez and her boyfriend were able to bring their cats with them.

Rodriguez’s unit wasn’t damaged by the water, but she said it still has been one of the most stressful weeks of her life. Her commute has shifted from a short walk to a 20-minute drive. Any personal items and clothes had to be gathered in a single trip up and down dozens of flights of stairs.

The most stressful part, she said, has been a lack of communication from Element, particularly during the seven hours her cats were trapped in her apartment and she was out of town. She said the communication alone has her questioning whether it’s worth paying nearly $2,000 a month to live there.

“This whole thing has been stressful beyond belief,” she said Friday. “And to still not have spoken to a single person on the phone since the incident began is ridiculous. We had no idea if our stuff was destroyed until we walked up the stairs ourselves the next day to see.”

Northland said Thursday that its plan to allow residents to return must first be approved by the city fire chief and the construction services manager. Even then, however, some residents still won’t be able to return to their homes.

The Element, built in 2009, is one of downtown Tampa’s tallest buildings. The city fire marshal’s office is investigating to determine what caused the two pipe breaks but had not released a cause for the break on Friday.

While she could return as soon as Monday, Rodriguez says she may not be staying in the downtown highrise much longer. Especially since she claims Element has not notified tenants of a rent reduction for the upcoming Aug. 1 due date.

“If the staff tries to go on like this never happened, then it’s adios,” Rodriguez said. “Nobody wants to live where they’re just a number. These are actual people and actual livelihoods in these units.”