Thursday, January 22, 2009

Renters Rights?

As a long-standing renter of properties in downtown and North Knoxville I have a few questions about what rights one has as a tenant in regards to the following situations. I've talked to a few people dealing with these issues recently in Maplehurst and we've been somewhat shocked out of knowing what to do.

1) The landlord won't fix ceilings and leaks, forcing tenants to move.

2) The landlord tells tenants their fully functional radiators are "broken" and that they will be "turned off." The landlord says the tenant can pick up a space heater from the office that barely heats the apartment and jacks up their KUB bill to hundreds of dollars.

3) They have said that they are going to fix buildings, but as people move out of buildings, they open up the windows and doors to abandoned and even some occupied buildings, exposing the interiors to the elements. Other than seeming unsafe to have old, dilapidated buildings open to the public, isn't demolition by neglect illegal?

4) If a tenant has a heat or leak problem, the owners say the tenant can move into another apartment that they own. I don't think they compensate you for this huge inconvenience.

I've seen a lot of people have to leave Maplehurst because of this neglect. On top of the absence of a friend, I get the enjoyment (sarcastic) of watching some of my favorite buildings in Knoxville deteriorate. It's a complicated situation because it's not really the current owners fault that Maplehurst is in the state it's in (ownership has changed numerous times in the past few years) but I'm really confused as to what they're currently doing.

Is the only threat you have in these circumstances to hire a lawyer or break your lease? If people silently move out, the situation is not likely to get better. Is there someone in government that you're supposed to notify of these things? From what I hear, this is just as much a predicament in the Fort, but what's being done about it?

I've asked several times to have my bathroom ceiling fixed. Every week more and more pieces of drywall fall into my bathtub. If you don't hear from me for a few days, it may be because I'm lying naked under my upstairs neighbors bathtub that has fallen on my head. Maybe then, they'll come and fix it.


max said...

yes there are renter's rights and from what i've heard it seems like the maplehurst folks are in for a world of hurt if they don't get their act together. i don't live there but it makes me angry to see several friends either forced to move out b/c of poor maintenance or neglect. clearly they don't care about anything that goes on in the neighborhood. somebody needs to take a microscope and petri dish to that place and figure out what is growing there. or call erin brockovich.

Anonymous said...

I've a friend in the law program at UT...I'll run this question by her.

As for as I know though, Code Enforcement may be your best bet, aside from legal aide.

The Modern Gal said...

Max and I were talking about this the other day, and I've been meaning to look up the landlord/tenant rights stuff. Here it is:

This outlines what landlords are supposed to be responsible for. The downside to it is, probably the only successful remedy is legal action, though you might be able to find some affordable or free help through legal aid.

Maybe some bad publicity would work too?

Anonymous said...

You could try calling code enforcement or the health department. I'm sure this is in violation of something.

Robert said...

First things first. You need to document every interaction you have with the landlord/management regarding problems with your unit. You need to mail/email a letter explaining what the problem is, and be sure to include something to the effect of "(insert problem here) and this is making it nearly impossible to live in my apartment."

This is the language you need to use if ever you need to get a lawyer involved (or if you want to break your lease with no ramifications). The main legal thing you have going for you is that the owner is required to provide you with an apartment in working/livable condition (toilets have to work, no holes in the walls, not too loud noises from the neighbors, etc). If they do not provide you with a livable apartment, you need to a) ask in writing that they fix the problem as soon as possible, b) Follow up in a week or so if they have not fixed the problem, asking them to, again, fix the problem.

From here, if you want to break your lease (after 30 days of not fixing the problem), you can do so, since they have failed to provide you with a tenable apartment (that's the magic phrase (my dad's a lawyer)).

Now, if you want to get them to just fix the damn stove (or whatever), that gets a little tricky. One approach is to just inform them (in person) that they have not addressed the problem, and that you will be hiring someone to fix it, and will be sending them the bill (since it is their job to fix this stuff, and are failing to do so). - I think I used this tactic when I was living at Maplehurst and the drug addict /maintenance man couldnt find the time to fix our leaky walls, shower that electricuted us, what have you ..., and it definitely worked.

So there's some info. I hope it helped, and please let me know if you need any more advice. Ive been there before, and youve got to be forceful.

Go Big B, GO!

Anonymous said...

My husband and I went through a similar circumstance about a year ago.
While living in duplex the septic backed up into the house, flooding the bath, bed, and hallway with poo poo water.
They fixed the septic but left the carpets to us.
Several other things stopped working, etc.
A short time later we get a visit from a bank rep holding a letter stating that the property had been seized due to foreclosure, we had 30 days to get out.

After talking to attorneys and reading over the tenant/landlord laws....all we could do was sue and go through the court process.
It's a real shame about MapleHurst. I wish all there luck and right to a proper dwelling.

max said...

i have photos of other maplehurst residences that look pretty bad. i'll make a new blog post.

and way to go knoxvillians for voicing up and coming out of the wood work for this issue!

benjamin said...

this is infuriating.

i can see myself walking into the office and saying, "fix my radiator. fix my radiator. fix my radiator. fix my radiator. fix my radiator...." over and over again for hours if i have to.

either i will get shot, or they will fix my radiator.

Anonymous said...

You can try refusing full payment of rent depending on what your lease agreement says. Try fully reading your lease to find something about "livable". It is their responsibility to provide what they agree upon in the lease. If they break their end of the deal then you can break your's. You end either being staying there as long as you agree or paying what you agreed. Inwhich case they would have to hire a lawyer to get the entire amount of rent from you. At this point lawyers become involved and it is my guess that if it is so crappy, they do not what them to become involved. Then change will have to happen.

Get a news story involved. Make a story yourself and get it in the metropulse.

Also, I'm sure there could be something with the better business bureau about this!

There are plenty of options. The only thing you are responsible for as a renter is your own personal items. If they are damaged it is your fault for not getting renters insurance etc, blah blah. Even if the place sucks, it would still be on you about your stuff, but I'm sure you never signed a lease agreeing to live in a dump-hole!

Good Luck!

Anonymous said...

Hey Big B
I am one of those people you've been talking to about this...and I know I probably don't help very much, because my initial reaction is to get really angry and go to the office and cuss out (not really, just shout really angrily) whoever is in there and tell them what they're doing is wrong, and how can you do this, and why are you doing this...
But that does all these peoples' advice is really good, and if you need any help, I'm there.
Despite IS wrong...and it IS infuriating...I don't think it's a question of whether or not what they are doing is legal or's NOT!

Robert said...

I agree with savvycat - let's get the Metropulse involved! you know it would make a great story

Amelia said...

Gordon Boyd reported on something similar to this recently (at least regarding the Campfield place but there's other helpful info there too...maybe want to contact him to do a story?):

B said...

i'm grateful for everyone's input. i think the main thing to put out there though is that the renters need to be put above landlord's agendas. renters shouldn't be left in the dark about what's going on in their neighborhood. i'm tired of getting shady answers to my questions about what's going on.

i just hope out of all of this, people will look at maplehurst and say that the people there love it, and always have and we should stop screwing them over. if i had the money, i would do everything i could to save maplehurst, without money, some people aren't willing to listen.

i just want to make sure people realize that all this dissension could cause the buildings to be condemned, but we have to start somewhere.

if you didn't read it, cynthia markert said it well in the editorial section of the metropulse this past week. (funny the timing of our writing) hopefully if the buildings do get fixed people with moderate incomes will still be able to afford living there.

i have hope that knoxville wouldn't let such a gem fade away.

Anonymous said...

The pictures in question are of a building that has been condemned by the city for nearly two years. The city codes department knows full well of it, thats why they have issued demolition orders for a couple buildings down there. Getting the city or the media in a dust-up is only going to complicate it for who ever will take this property over.

Word is that a new owner is in the process of taking it over and they are going to completly restore everything in the neighborhood.

B said...

i agree that media exposure is not necessarily the best solution. it's such a sensitive and political subject, but the idea of writing about it wouldn't leave me, for months, actually, and I couldn't not voice my opinion.

the main thing is that i wanted to express how sad it's all been and that no matter how much i want to save a building, i even moreso want people to be taken care of.

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