NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WZTV) — As the nation struggles with unemployment and lost wages resulting from the pandemic, many renters can no longer afford a place to live. So, what can they do about it and what are their rights?
Danette Mahabeer has a 3-year-old daughter, is self-employed. and owns a photography business. Unfortunately, all of her appointments have been canceled because of the pandemic.
“I’ve had zero income for the past three weeks,” she says.
Struggling to pay her rent, she’s moving out of her apartment to stay with family but says her complex won’t work with her. They still want the buyout fee upfront, a fee of more than $1,000.
“I even asked them for a payment plan and, unfortunately, they have resisted even a payment plan. You know, like a three-part payment or anything.”
“We’re seeing a lot of people who just don’t know what to do right now,” says Legal Aid Society Attorney Zac Oswald.
The Legal Aid Society effectively fills-in the civil-legal gap for people who can’t afford an attorney.
He says one big issue right now is that courts are closed and landlords are not allowed to evict people for not paying rent until the end of April.
“We’re seeing a lot of landlords take actions into their own hands and they’re illegally kicking people out by changing the locks or turning off their electricity or things like that.”
He advises against that because tenants can sue for damages.
Also, just because there’s no immediate penalty for not paying rent doesn’t mean you should withhold it.
“A landlord that wants to evict a tenant, when the courts are open, is going to be able to evict the tenant and file a lawsuit to get back any money they should have been paying for rent during the time that the tenant wasn’t paying.”
He says there is a lot of rent support for renters here. He encourages people to take advantage of the help, but also warns people to be careful of misinformation.