Local government doesn't want to see renters left in the dark - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Local government doesn't want to see renters left in the dark

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    Friday, October 4 2013 3:43 PM EDT2013-10-04 19:43:45 GMT
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Mid-South (FOX13) -

This winter we've heard their wails of frustration in being trapped in uninhabitable conditions.
"No one should live like that and if you're managing an apartment, I think you should show more remorse," says Vanessa Washington a Memphis apartment renter. "I don't have the deposit. I don't have an extra month's rent. I can pay what I was going to pay here this month. Other than that, I don't have anything else."

Former Avery Park Place renter Terri Brown said, "I called the State Assessor's Office and they gave me a name and a number for a gentleman that was in California. But, she said he had forfeited on his taxes and the state has taken over the property."

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Statistics from the National Multi-Family Housing Council show apartment dwellers make up 22 percent of all housing in the Bluff City. But, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics citing Memphis residents' average annual income is four-thousand dollars less than the national average, finding affordable rentals can sometimes trap people in a minefield of unscrupulous practices conducted by negligent local property owners or distant and disinterested out of state lessors.

From no running water, apartment flooding, raw sewage, broken pipes and even building condemnation, the horror stories bring into question what many disappointed Memphians believe is a phrase containing two words that are not often synonymous - "renters" and "rights." But, in the wake of FOX13 News coverage of the atrocious conditions which led to the condemnation of the Avery Park Place Apartments, local and state officials have been spurred to take action to protect low income renters from those property owners who prey on them.

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"The state can really step in and help us is to go after the property owners who are irresponsible and who simply just are neglectful with these properties," said Memphis City Councilwoman Wanda Halbert. Last month in Nashville, Memphis State Representative Barbara Cooper drafted House Bill 18-18 requiring the Tennessee Department of Human Services and the Department of Children's' Services to help any families or elderly people who are left in buildings that aren't fit for living. Cooper says, "If our communities become more active, but know that they have somebody they can report to. That something is going to be done about it. Then they will report it."

Having been Shelby County Environmental Court Judge for more than 30 years, Larry Potter has seen the confusion caused when out-of-state owners turn their backs on rental properties without the knowledge of the still rent-paying tenants. "What happens when the owner in another state refuses to repair the property and does not pay the bank? But, the bank knows that is a problem property and they know if they foreclose it is going to be a costly circumstance for them. So, they don't foreclose," said Potter.

Another proposal fostered by Memphis City Councilman Myron Lowery, will also require legislative action from the Shelby County Commission. His "Master Meter" ordinance for water bills wouldn't be retroactive, but if passed it could provide protection for future tenants against unexpected MLGW service cut-offs. "All newly constructed apartments and condominiums to have individual water meters so that the condominium owner or apartment renter will be responsible for their own water bills," said Lowery.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton is skeptical the rights of renters in Memphis will receive immediate attention among Nashville legislators due to what he sees as a bias toward pro-business interests. That's why he joins Lowery in pushing for local solutions. "What we have to do is enforce those laws that are on the books already. Working with the District Attorney General. If someone is stealing money as a landlord, he or she ought to be prosecuted just like a common criminal."

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