Digging into the landmines hidden in your lease that can leave you homeless
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Renting an apartment or home is what most people do in Memphis, especially if the renter lives below the poverty line.
And that can mean big problems with landlords when times are tough.
Urelene Vault knows what it’s like to fall on hard times and fall behind on her rent. It left her with not only a late fee but additional fees that included her landlord taking her to court and paying a lawyer.
“You got to go to court," Vault said. “You must pay more fees. You must get another place to stay, which nowadays they want first and last month rent."
According to the home rental comparison site Rentcafe.com, the average price to rent a home in Memphis is $825 bucks.
And, in Tennessee, a landlord can hit a tenant with a late fee that cannot exceed over 10% of the rent.
However, we’ve learned the problems begin when tenants get hit with additional costs between $200 and $500 for things like court costs and lawyer fees the landlord tacks on.
The debt grows so large often the tenant winds up getting evicted.
Elana Delevega is a professor of social work at the University of Memphis. She said the practice of additional fees for court and lawyer costs is a typical practice of landlords in Memphis and in other cities where poverty is prevalent.
“The biggest problem we have is when external interests come into Memphis and buy land in Memphis rather than individual Memphians buy the land in Memphis,” Delavega said.
Delevega said the unfair fees continue the cycle of poverty and eventually lead to tenants getting evicted and sometimes being the cause of people finding another housing option.
“I think we always need to be concerned about people who come from outside and buy us up, whoever they may be,” Delavega said.
Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner said the problems of late rent, additional fees and evictions have grown to an all-time high since the beginning of the COVID19 pandemic.
“They are moving out of the property, but there is still court costs, attorney fees, late fines and all of these things, which keeps them paying for an apartment that they don’t live in anymore,” Turner said.
Turner said even before the pandemic, the county worked to find solutions through the Shelby County Community Services Agency for people who struggled to pay rent and additional fees.
The agency continues to work hard while commissioners said more needs to be done on the federal and state level.
“We can ask our legislators and those who are at the federal level to see if there is some federal, state legislation we can enact to give a grace period and allow people to get from under all of this debt,” Turner said.
Attorney Walter Bailey represents people in Shelby County who believe property managers at rental properties have treated them unfairly.
Bailey said because of a lack of resources many people are stuck with having to pay the fees.
“There is little the tenant can do but complain and put the landlord on notice,” Baily said. “What else can the poor tenant do? The tenant is strapped and tied in with that lease that’s landlord-friendly.”
Vault said she hopes people will find the help to get out of the tough situations with rent so they can breathe and not have to worry where the next night’s rest will be.
“Get to know your neighbors, get to know the people who are renting from you to see their situation,” Vault said.