Amid nationwide debates on whether the eviction moratoriums should be extended for renters with COVID-19, many would say there’s been a strained relationship between renters and landlords.
Eviction rates, coupled with zoning complaints, is one of the reasons why Kelly Waller from the Bedford County Listening Project, a renter’s advocacy group, says the research they’ve conducted since January 2020 shows that out of more than 600 Bedford County tenants surveyed, over 90 percent of them didn’t feel they could find safe, affordable housing.
For Misty Kasinger, 43, and her family, an open septic tank plagued their yard when they moved into their rental on Rattlesnake Lodge Road last April.
It’s just a narrow PVC pipe that extends from the house and drips what can only politely be described as muck and stench that oozes into their yard whenever it rains. A piece of plywood covered it to prevent animals or children from falling in.
When Kasinger filed a zoning complaint against her landlord on July 21, she claimed her landlord skipped the 30 days’ notice and served Kasinger with a detainer warrant on July 29 to be in court Aug. 4. A concrete cover was eventually put into place during that time. But Kasinger says the smell still comes out of it since the tank is not buried.
“For a thousand dollars a month, my house should be up to codes,” she said.
He said, she said
“There’s a lot of things going on there, and I’m trying to be nice about it and not bother anybody,” said Kasinger’s landlord in a phone interview with T-G.
For one thing, the chickens Kasinger says her five-year-old daughter raises have caused a mess in the yard, according to the landlord.
“I put $30,000 into that house before they moved into it...what they’ve don’t is they’ve got a bunch of poultry. And I told them they couldn’t have them. But they got them anyway. And they’re defecating all over the porch, and they’re tracking it in the house,” he said.
Kasinger’s landlord said they had quit paying their light bill two months after they moved in. The light bill that still in his name is an added $530 to his other expenses, he said.
“I’m having a hard enough time making my own living...” he said. Kasinger showed court information that stated she owed a balance of zero on their rent.
Their landlord also denied only serving a detainer warrant, saying he’s “done everything the law said I had to do.”
Confusion in court
Kasinger went to court on Aug. 4. She said she was able to show that her landlord doesn’t own the house with the deed being in someone else’s name and that the landlord said he was “renting to own” from the owner.
The judge reset the hearing for a week, telling the landlord he needed to prove ownership.
When they got to court again on Aug. 11, there came confusion in court. According to Kasinger, the landlord said he’d filed an eviction notice on July 13, even though Kasinger said they had only received a detainer warrant on July 29.
“It was like there had been a conversation sometime in between the first court date and the second one that we weren’t a part of based on the dialogue between landlord and judge,” she said.
So, Kasinger’s only option was to appeal.
But it hasn’t gone as hoped.
“First, they said it’s $260 to file the appeal, then they said I would need a year’s worth of rent for a bond. Most renters don’t have that kind of money. This whole process is set up for the tenant to fail,” she said.
“Grass roots” effort
“The alleged story that Misty is telling is not a onetime story. We hear about retaliation cases for calling codes all the time,” said Waller from the Listening Project.
Waller helped Kasinger file the appeal the judge recommended. But with Kasinger testing positive for COIVD-19, the process was complicated.
“At first, they said you can sign her appeal for her, just give us the information. But then they called back to the judge and they were like never mind...we can’t do that,” said Waller.
She said Listening Project donated the money to file the appeal, which Kasinger’s husband ended up signing.
Waller says the miscommunication comes with tenants not knowing their rights and with the lack of legal representation, which Kasinger has seen in her own case.
“Since my landlord skipped the 30-day notice, this caused it to be difficult to find representation, not to mention no one in Bedford County will touch tenant cases,” Kasinger said.
She’s receiving advice from law office Bullock Fly in Murfreesboro. And even though there’s Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee, Kasinger said they don’t qualify for their help and the referral they gave her for an attorney said they do not offer help in appeals.
Waller expounded, “Legal Aid wouldn’t take her case...I understand under normal circumstances she probably doesn’t fall on their poverty level. But while he (Misty’s husband) is under quarantine, they should.” Kasinger said her husband, John, had to quarantine for the recommended 20 days, unpaid leave.
And one of the hurdles Waller said she faces is no clarification on whether the codes department conducts thorough investigations and follow-ups with the zoning complaints.
“We also asked that they find a way to pass some sort of resolution or ordinance that says you can’t evict someone, while they have an open codes violation—because that’s retaliation,” Waller said.
But the “common sense legislation” the Listening Project touts hasn’t passed, especially in the County, because some commissioners say these issues are a private matter between landlords and tenants, according to Waller.
Kasinger’s landlord said when he receives another letter from General Sessions Court, he’ll find out what to do when he gets the next letter.
As for Kasinger, her next court date is set for Sept. 9. As far as she knows, she has until then to find another residence.
“I know for a fact we aren’t the only ones facing this situation. There are many people sick with COVID being forced out of their homes,” she said. “If I don’t stand up for my family who else will?”