Editors note: This is the story of Nicole Bs experience with renting a home in Shelbyville. She asked that her last name be withheld.
When the subject of rental properties and tenants rights comes up, Nicole B. becomes agitated because of her experience renting a home in Shelbyville six years ago.
Nicole and her husband decided to move back to Shelbyville six years ago, looking for the rural lifestyle. I didnt want to raise my son in Nashville, she said. I wanted to come back to a small town. She was also concerned with her parents wellbeing. My parents were getting older and I wanted to be able to take care of them.
Coming back to Shelbyville was also starting over for Nicole and her husband. They had lost everything they owned in the Nashville 2010 flood.
When they got to Shelbyville, she said, we had a hard time finding a place to rent. We wanted to rent for awhile before we bought. My parents had a home but it wasnt available at the time. Once it became available we planned on purchasing from them.
Their search for a rental was difficult, Nicole said, as they werent willing to take just any house. I grew up in a middle class home, she said. I didnt grow up in the projects or in trailer parks. I had a certain standard of living we were looking for.
Nicole said her house search was also made more difficult because she didnt know many people who rented. Most people we know own, they dont rent, so we didnt have the word of mouth telling us to stay away from certain landlords.
I knew some (landlords), like Vance Clay but he had sold all his properties. I would have rented from him, she said. She knew other landlords, family friends, but none had anything we wanted.
She finally came across a house for rent that she thought might be OK. It wasnt exactly what we wanted but it was the only thing we could find, she said. She was shown the older shotgun type row house at night but the electricity was off. It was dark in the house but I could see that it needed to be repainted and the carpets needed to be cleaned, she said. I asked the girl if they could paint and clean the carpets and the girl said If you want to do it we can supply the paint.
Nicole said the house reminded her of the older homes in East Nashville. I thought we could work with it.
To move in she was required to pay a non refundable $500 move in fee, a $300 pet deposit for her emotional support dog, and, if she remembers right, two weeks rent: $310.
Problems with the house started showing up even before they got their large furniture delivered, Nicole said. We slept on the floor on air mattresses, she said, and I started noticing these bugs coming out of the crown molding. I was like what is that? Nicoles father had worked in sales for a local pest control company and when he inspected the home he told her the invading insects were bedbugs.
After the couple got the electricity turned on they began inspecting the home and found more problems with vermin. We found roach feces all over the place. We found roach larvae in the kitchen cabinets, she said.
Nicole called the landlord who promised to send an exterminator. The exterminator, Nicole said, gave the place a once over lightly. The guy came in and sprayed like it was a monthly treatment, like he was spraying for spiders. He just went around and squirted a little here and squirted a little there, and he was done.
Later in that first week, in the middle of the night, Nicole said, she heard a commotion she thought was an animal at the back door. She thought it might be a dog or a cat. I came to find out it was a huge rat under the kitchen sink, she said. I keep a clean home and Im terrified of rodents. My husband put a mesh thing, lie steel wool over the hole. Then the rat chewed a hole through my sons closet.
As they covered rat holes in her sons room, the rats would chew through other areas. They chewed the duct work in the walls to the point where the heat and air conditioning didnt work right. Every time I called the landlord about it they would just say Its on the list. It never got resolved.
Nicole and her husband battled the whole time, almost two years trying to get the landlord to fix the problems and trying keep the rats and insects out of their home.
Nicole, who had worked for two decades in health care, had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and was not working at the time. I was going through a hard time, she said. I wasnt working. But, the couple stuck it out and saved money until her familys house became available to buy.
Nicole related a problem that other tenants mention. She never could get a copy of the lease. When she signed the lease the rental agent only had the one copy and when she started asking at the rental office they told her We dont keep the leases here.
Nicole said she tried calling Shelbyville City Codes but she couldnt get help from them. They told me they wouldnt come out unless I had a copy of the lease or the owners permission. They told me the landlord might be vindictive and find a reason to evict us. It was intimidating. I was scared.
After theyd been in the house for awhile, Nicole said, because the lights kept flickering and one outlet burned up.
She called the landlord about the flickering lights and three or four months later they sent somebody out and they replaced the breaker box. But the new breaker box didnt correct the problem the lights were still flickering. I told them its probably the rats in the walls. You could hear them in the walls chewing and scratching.
Nicole said after awhile, she found the rats entry route: a rotted hole, large enough for a small person to crawl through, in the floor in a closet that contains the hot water heater.
Every night I was scared a rat was going to come in or the house was going to catch on fire, she said.
Nicole also started noticing black mold around the air vent in the kitchen and growing on the walls of her sons bedroom. The whole time they were in the home, she said, her sons asthma was causing him problems. We were constantly going to the doctor, she said. After they moved out, he got better.
Nicole now lives, happily in the home she bought from family.
She went on to become one of the founding members of the Bedford County Listening Project, a tenant rights group. And listening to tenants is what Nicoles done a lots of.
Ive knocked on doors and talked to people, she said. Ive seen raw sewage backed up in peoples bathtubs. Ive heard threats, many people have recordings. Ive yet to see a tenant who has a copy of their lease. Ive personally talked to over 40 or 50 tenants, going door-to-door.
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