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City advocates fight for livable conditions in Memphis apartments

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — They're conditions no tenant should have to live in.

"Bed bugs, roaches and water; There's no water, period," said a renter at Kimball Cabana Apartments.

However, we often hear about issues like these taking place at different Memphis apartment complexes.

"We will wake up with the water off and it might not come back on until the children come out of school," said Kameron Catron whose children live at the Corning Village Apartments.

Brad Watkins, executive director at the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, fights for renters in these situations.

"The problem is being a landlord is like being a comedian or owning a restaurant -- It's something that everyone thinks they can do, but in fact, being a landlord, being a good one, is a profession," Watkins said.

On top of many managers not doing a decent job, a lot of residents don't report issues.

"As it stands now, people are afraid," said Watkins. "We've worked with people who've been evicted the next day. Yes, it's illegal, but if you don't have a lawyer then it really doesn't matter."

Which is why he's been trying to get renters to form tenant associations in their complexes. That way, they have one voice and are less likely to be retaliated against.

Judge Larry Potter thinks that could help prevent some landlords from ending up in his courtroom.

"That's something I'd be in favor of working with anyone on," said Judge Potter.

Watkins also wants to take advantage of an ordinance already on the books.

Mayor Jim Strickland sponsored the ordinance when he was a councilman. It creates training by code enforcement for people to learn the common violations in the city.

"Their role is to notify us and help us be aware of what the circumstances are. They're not able to cite or issue violations," said Public Works Director Robert Knecht.

However, part of the ordinance reads, "A reserve officer designated as provided in this article is not authorized to issue misdemeanor citations in lieu of arrest, for violations of the housing code and articles 1 through 7 of this chapter and in accordance with the provisions therein. The director may authorize the reserve officer to issue notices of violations."

The city admits there haven't been recent trainings as they're currently rewriting the housing code for the city. They're also evaluating how to incorporate technology into their jobs.

"The staffing has been somewhat stagnant for a few years, because we've been looking at ways to make it more efficient," Knecht said.

Watson says he's offered to recruit tenants for these code enforcement trainings for years now because it would go hand-in-hand with building strong tenant associations.

He said the city's never been responsive to his proposals.

Knecht said, as of Wednesday, he didn't know the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center has reached out to help, but he is interested in the idea.

"We can't have citizens living in those conditions," said Knecht. "It's just not acceptable."

Knecht said they’re also working on a renters’ Bill of Rights, like they’ve seen in other cities, to help with some of these problems.

More than anything, city leaders want people to report problems to 311. Reports can be anonymous.

As for forming tenant associations, some tenants in section eight housing would qualify for community services hours for doing so.

For more information and if you're interested in forming an association at your complex, contact the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center at 901-725-4990.