A bad landlord can cause a host of problems

Photo courtesy of Jack Purdy Student Publications

In August of 2020, during the throes of the pandemic and the first time I was consistently around people that weren’t related to me, I moved in with eight other friends to a rental house on McMillan St. Our house is two doors behind Rocky Mountain Pizza, a delightful location if you want to be off-campus, but still an easy walk to classes (except to Scheller). 

When we toured the house, we knew it wasn’t perfect. None of the floors are flat, but it had what we needed. Two bathrooms, six bedrooms, a working kitchen, a living room that could accommodate guests and parking for most of us. We also knew the landlord wasn’t the best, but that’s par for the course for Home Park. We were willing to accept that sacrifice up front.

During the first few months there, nothing major came up. A couple nights we had rats, but that problem was quickly solved. We realized the dishwasher was a little old and not cleaning super well, and our house manager was helpful in getting that replaced. Those were the last of the problems solved in any reasonable manner.

A year ago, we noticed black mold coming up from the floor of one of the bathrooms. The mold wasn’t spreading that fast, but obviously any mold is bad, so we wanted it taken care of before it became a legitimate health hazard. We mentioned it to our landlord. 

By this point, we no longer had a house manager, so it was on us to liaison with our landlord. This is still the case today.

We also had some roof issues because we’d get water dripping from the ceiling in a couple spots during intense storms. We asked about that as well, but no major fix was ever completed. Just patching at best.

Months passed into the summer, and the mold had not been addressed. The same bathroom shower had poor drainage as well, to which our landlord said to “drill holes.” 

We began noticing other issues more closely that revealed our house was not up to current City of Atlanta codes. We had no working fire alarms. The foundation essentially was piles of bricks and cement blocks that slowly had been shifting as the decades passed, hence why our floors are not flat. 

Heat and cool air didn’t equally get through the house, rendering one bedroom to essentially be plus or minus 20 degrees the outside temperature on a normal day. We had no working gutters, or gutters at all around most of the house. Multiple ceilings have cracks in them. The other bathroom had broken tiles on the floor that were caving in. Our front porch staircase was treacherous at times and absolutely not up to current code. The house has one total exterior electric
outlet.

This brings us to Fall 2021. Of all those issues listed above, none were fully solved by our landlord, and some were plainly not addressed. One of the bedrooms in the middle of the house we knew was vulnerable to leaks on rainy days, but we weren’t aware how damaging it was until September. One night behind a bed frame, we found an appalling amount of mold on the floor and wall that we just hadn’t found yet. It was enough that it honestly made more sense to tear the whole house down than try and clean it up. A new element for the periodic table was probably living in that room. It was so bad. 

Multiple residents had been having some breathing issues the last couple months, and now we knew why. One promptly took advantage of Tech’s emergency housing and had a much safer room in Woodruff until we reached a solution.

We immediately reported the mold to our landlord, who I’ll note had still yet to fix any of the other major issues we had brought up by this point. Issues are supposed to be submitted through an online portal they track to make sure we pay rent. Our landlord does not check this portal ever.

We knew this was no condition we should be living in, so immediately we began researching other possible housing options we could relocate to mid-semester.  

By the end of September, that room had still not been treated by our landlord, nor any of the other major issues. We decided to seek legal counsel to try and find a way out of our lease, scheduled to end July 2022. Tech does have some counsel on hand, but we could not get anything scheduled fast enough. We wanted out as fast as humanly possible.

At first, we were pretty hopeful we could get out. We could show that our landlord was unresponsive to fixing issues with our house that did not meet City of Atlanta’s criteria for a livable house. To lawyers we told this story to, they seemed optimistic we’d win any
legal battle. 

In Georgia, though, tenants have very, very few rights when it comes to issues like this. Even in a house that clearly is uninhabitable, tenants aren’t allowed to just pack up and leave if their lease doesn’t have a clause for that. Rent has to be paid unless a lease has been altered or voided, no way around it. Until we legally had the green light to leave, we were stuck.

We became quite vocal with our landlord. We attempted to send a letter to them so that there was documented writing that we asked for him to fix the problems in the house, but nothing had been fixed. The initial address we had for them in Tennessee bounced back to us. We literally couldn’t figure out where this person lived. We eventually found they lived in Georgia and sent it there, but not after repeated checks with USPS to make sure it was delivered. Another avenue we attempted was to get the house condemned by the City. The problem with that is first a house must be empty and deemed vacant by the landlord. Neither of those were true, so that idea wasn’t going to happen. October became the month of looking at houses in Home Park and the Centennial area. That month we also created a demand letter to be sent to our landlord. 

Before we sent it, our lawyer wisely reminded us that a landlord has the right to fix an issue before tenants take any concrete action. We were under the impression that because it had been over six months for some of the issues with no fix, we were past that point. But, our landlord did begin solving some issues at a mediocre level. Because of that, our possible legal argument that we could terminate the lease became much murkier. Our landlord also had the resources to take each of us to court individually, which we did not have the financial resources for. As we got into further discussions with our lawyers, we did however get the City to inspect the exterior of the house, and they did send our landlord a list of issues that needed to be fixed by late-December upon reinspection. That list totaled 35 deficiencies just on the exterior. 

In late-October, our lawyer and landlord spoke over the phone, which resulted in the promise that workers would come to work on the house in the next five business days. There was one day not long beforehand that some did show up, but with no advance notification. That in itself is not allowed per our lease.

A mold inspector also came, but when we contacted our landlord to get a report, they never responded. We separately contacted the inspector, and they told us they were never paid. We then paid for our own inspection, which read that the room was free of any hazardous mold. By that point, we had done our best to clean it somewhat because leaving it untouched was not an option.

In November, our lawyer and landlord had communication about the early termination of the lease, and said they would fix everything making the house non-livable. Some issues including the bathroom flooring were in the process of being fixed. Our landlord then proceeded to show up to our house past 8:00 p.m. on a weeknight unannounced. My housemates that had tracked our situation best walked them through the house to show every little thing we had notified him about. The landlord was given an extreme talking to about how messed up our situation was, and that we’ve been under undue hardship for multiple months. By the end of the evening, they verbally agreed to let us out early.

We began preparing the exterior of the house for showing because our landlord still wanted to get the house filled somehow. Somehow this civil engineer landlord of ours believed our house was still livable after being inside it for half an hour and worth letting others live in.

Workers came and went throughout November, often not coming when they said they would. This caused a housemate who was working this semester to lose some pay because they had to stay home to wait for workers who never came. Later that month, our landlord said everything was fixed. Our lawyer then personally came to our house to see for themselves, and could easily tell the landlord was lying. Our lawyer then sent both a settlement letter and a demand to release us from the lease simultaneously to ensure our landlord had to respond to one of them.

To that, our landlord responded threatening to sue us all individually, the only thing we didn’t have the resources to do. We were stuck.

So, we continue living in the house. The City eventually made their inspection of the house during winter break and are taking our landlord to court for at least eight citations. According to the City, that process can take up to six months. For us, that means no resolution could come until after we’ve moved out in July.

It’s an awful situation. None of us are pleased about it. 

The housemate who temporarily was at Woodruff did move back in for a month or so after most of the mold was cleaned up. 

But, because that room is so vulnerable to moisture and humidity from outside the house, mildew constantly has been spreading in that room, which has caused further damage into 2022. 

The damage in that room includes destroyed luggage, warped furniture, destroyed clothing, and constant health issues to our housemate. 

For their own health, they had to move out and we are volunteering to cover their rent. 

All of this to obviously say, be careful who your landlord is. Do your research. What we’ve been through is not representative of the average Home Park experience. For those wanting to move into Home Park, I hope this story is both enlightening and also not a deterrent from moving to the neighborhood. 

The positives I’ve experienced in this neighborhood far outweigh the harm this story has caused me and my friends. 

Community can be built. Good landlords do exist here, some even live here. 

Many friends came to our aid during the last year, to whom we are eternally grateful.