Recap: February meeting reads renters their rights
Cooper-Young is a diverse community in many ways, but our renters are often an under-served part of the neighborhood. With recent concerns over a few local landlords have come questions from renters and conscientious owners alike. To help answer these questions, the Cooper-Young Community Association invited Kate Anderson from Memphis Area Legal Services (MALS) to come speak with at our February community meeting.
Anderson began with some basic information about MALS. The office provides a myriad of legal services but when working with clients regarding housing, they focus primarily on helping tenants. While they have limited funding, they are not a means-based service and have no income requirements or caps for their clients. Most of what they do includes offering legal advice to tenants and providing some mediation between tenants and landlords.
Next, we learned about discriminatory practices in renting and some tips on what to do if you’re having trouble with a landlord. First and foremost, Anderson said, you always need to pay your rent in full and on time. Because of Memphis laws, almost all renters’ rights become void if there is ever a failure to pay rent.
The next most important thing is to communicate with your landlord about issues in a way that leaves a clear, written record. Anderson suggested using email as a reliable way to keep track of all interactions. If things cannot be resolved through direct communication, call code enforcement (if applicable) or contact a service like MALS. One thing all renters should be aware of is that their landlords are legally bound to provide essential services like heating (but NOT air conditioning) and water. Even if you have failed to pay rent, the owner must provide these services while working through the legal eviction process.
Finally, Anderson suggested that most landlords who are difficult once will continue to be so; because of the difficulties in bringing most issues to court, she suggested searching for new housing as quickly as possible.
Many of those who attended the meeting were also concerned with what the community might do to help renters with problematic landlords. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. The biggest thing we can do is report properties to code enforcement and emotionally support neighbors who may be dealing with a bad property owner. Depending on the issues, we may need to contact the Tennessee Human Rights Commission (for verbally or otherwise abusive individuals practicing discrimination) or HUD. — Kristen Schebler