Rats, mold and crime: How to get out of an apartment you feel is unsafe

Problem Solvers

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — For Shelby County Schools teaching assistant Anthony Parks, the issues in his Hickory Hill apartment started to add up quickly: rats, mold and a break-in while he was at work.

Parks was at work at Holmes Road Elementary School in February when he got an alert on his phone and saw security images of an unknown man inside his apartment. The public school teacher called police and rushed home.

“This is the window here he came through,” he showed us about two months later, where the window had still not been fixed.

Plywood covered the shattered glass that remained.

The issues, compounded by mildew under his sink and rats he’s seen made Parks feel uncomfortable and unsafe in his unit at the Arbors at Hickory Ridge.

But he’s having trouble getting the Arbors to do anything about it.

They told him he’d have to pay $500 to change units or $1,000 to leave. And when he checked his lease, he didn’t see anything that gave him a way out.

So he called the WREG Problem Solvers.

We went to Memphis Area Legal Services to get an idea of what Parks and others in a bad rental situation can do if they want to leave.

“Everything’s gotta be in writing,” CEO Cindy Ettingoff said.

Ettingoff said the lease isn’t the only thing that matters in court. Instead she said you have to build a case against your landlord showing they’ve made your home uninhabitable.

Here’s what she recommends:

  • Submit all complaints in writing.
  • Ask for repairs and explain any hazards that are compromising your health.
  • Reference dates of previous requests if you’ve already made them.

“The writing he has to send has to conclude it’s currently uninhabitable, he wants their help, and it’s their failure to maintain it that necessitates him going to another apartment,” Ettingoff said.

Ettingoff also said his landlord cannot charge him $500 to move to a different unit.

“To pay for the privilege of paying rent in a new apartment is not appropriate,” she said.

Getting Answers

To get answers for Parks, the Problem Solvers went directly to the management office at the Arbors at Hickory Ridge. We spoke with the same woman Parks had previously. She told us they were working on getting him a new window installed in the next two weeks and that Memphis Code Enforcement had even gotten involved.

“He did call us about the window and he did call Code and they cited us about the window,” the manager said.

But when we asked why it was taking so long, she gave this surprising answer.

“The problem is, the way the window was broken we suspected he had something to do with it or someone that knows him. So when it’s an incident like that, the resident is typically supposed to pay for it,” she said.

We asked why they assumed he had something to do with it if he called police as it was happening. The manager said “if somebody was trying to harm you you’d call the police regardless, right?”

The explanation didn’t add up because that would mean Parks did not ask for the break-in.

She also said the window seemed like it might’ve been broken from the inside, but later confirmed they were moving forward with fixing it.

“Our responsibility of course is to replace the window,” she said.

She also said she’d check on his other maintenance requests and talk to her corporate office about Parks’ options. 

The next time we spoke with Parks, he had a positive update.

“Received a phone call from Miss Tameika stating, ‘Hey we’re going to let you out of your lease with no penalties,’” he said.

As for the accusation that he might’ve had something to do with the break-in..

“For me to try to stage something like that after I work hard, go to school full time, work three jobs, when do I have time to do that? I believe it’s a cover-up,” he said.

He said he hopes others learn from his experience and don’t take the risk.

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