• FOX13 Investigates: What are renters' rights?

    By: Greg Coy


    MEMPHIS, Tenn. - The Shelby County General Sessions Civil Court was packed Tuesday.  

    The cases seen there were landlords complaining about their tenants and the tenants fighting with the landlord. It is there FOX13 found Carolyn Hernandez, a tenant in a legal battle for nearly a year.    

    "The hot water heater was out for a whole week. My air conditioner was gone for half the summer and it was leaking water all over the floor," said Hernandez.

    Some tenants haven't gone to court because they don’t know their rights.  

    "It seems as if I am stuck," said Ebony DeShazer.

    DeShazer has not taken her landlord to court but complains about a leaky ceiling that has stained, a cracked dry wall and fears of black mold. "It is very emotionally draining because I have a two-year-old son and I can't give a bath in the bathtub. I have to put them in my little bitty sink which is about this big," said DeShazer as she pointed to the sink in the bathroom. 
    DeShazer told FOX13 the apartment management promised her repairs were done but not to her satisfaction. "I believe if the laws were on my side I still would not be dealing with the issues I am dealing with," said DeShazer.

    Tennessee does have laws to protect both tenant and landlord. FOX13 found this section in the law addressing landlord repairs.  

    They must keep the place up. They must provide what's called essential services. They can take up to 2 weeks to make repairs once they have written notice. If it is an emergency, such as raw sewage, no heat, or no water, code enforcement can demand repairs within three days.

    FOX13 knows from our experience rental complaints are a big problem in the mid-south.  

    Every time we open our tip line calls come in from frustrated tenants. The Memphis Fair Housing Center hears them as well.  

    FOX13 asked the center them to analyze those complaints, to pinpoint where they are coming from. We found the areas that stand out are Hickory Hill, Frasyer, The University of Memphis area, Colonial Yorkshire in East Memphis.  

    Other communities include Whitehaven and Raleigh.  

    FOX13 asked Milandria King, Memphis Fair Housing Center, Memphis Area Legal Services to describe where the center gets the most complaints. 

    "African American neighborhoods primarily," said Attorney King. She added most of the people who call are women. "No one should be expected to live in a situation which is going to be detrimental to your health, to your welfare," said Attorney King.

    It is one reason why so many renters ending up here in civil court. Renters can ask a judge to step in.

    The judge can go as far as letting a tenant stay in a hotel until the problem is fixed. Such extreme measure can only be decided by a judge and it must be in writing. Taking the landlord to court and fight comes at cost unless you win.  

    It's a cost that's too much for Carolyn Hernandez. She just has to endure. ”If they put me out I will have no place to go. I will be homeless I am 70 years old. My health is bad," said Hernandez. 

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