MEMPHIS, Tenn. — WREG sorted out the rights and responsibilities tenants and landlords have when it comes to a decent place to live.
It’s become all too familiar — high-rise apartments that have fallen into disrepair, leaving tenants frustrated and demanding help.
The 100-year-old Almadura Apartments building is still standing at Poplar and Stonewall in Midtown, and is still very much occupied. It was a trailblazer when it was built in 1922, a work of art.
But some who now call it home say a closer look reveals some big problems.
“The property is falling apart,” said Jacob Thompson, who lived here and used to work here as a maintenance man, before he was let go.
We visited him before he moved out and got an eyeful of what Almadura has become. Bricks have fallen outside the building, presenting a safety issue for those below.
“I can hear them from my apartment when they fall. That’s just how loud and how much force they have when they hit the ground,” Thompson said. “I’m just scared that somebody’s going to get hit.”
Thompson said the staircase is littered with rocks and debris, which could cause problems for residents.
“We have elderly people that stay up there and they could easily fall,” he said.
It looks like mold has taken up residency in one unit’s bathroom. It’s covering the ceilings, the wall and everywhere.
The tenant says it’s been like that for a year, with no one coming to make repairs.
Thompson said the bathroom in the unit above that one is just as bad, covered in mold.
We reached out to one of the owners of Almadura.
Dr. Sanjeev Kumar, an OB/GYN in East Memphis, declined to go on camera with us but says he bought the property two years ago.
He said he visited five days before our conversation and saw none of the issues we found.
“Almadura is being renovated gradually as tenants move out,” Kumar said. “There are a handful of delinquent tenants creating trouble, and they are being managed legally.”
Kumar went on to say they “take repairs seriously.”
But Thompson wonders.
“I tried to help. I was maintenance here for a year. I’ve done everything I could to help the tenants here,” he said.
Problems at many Memphis high-rises
Almadura is private and, unlike Serenity Towers, Memphis Towers and Peppertree Apartments, doesn’t get government subsidies. But the tenants still want the same thing, a decent place to call home.
Memphis Area Legal Services gets plenty of tenant/landlord calls, and lately most of the calls are about having no air conditioning in the stifling summer heat.
Legal Services says, believe it or not, under Tennessee law, air conditioning isn’t considered something that’s required like heating.
“At the time the statute was written they looked at heat as something that would make something habitable or uninhabitable, the absence of it would make an uninhabitable. But they didn’t consider air conditioning to be something that was a factor for habitability,” said Cindy Ettinghoff with Memphis Area Legal Services.
So if you are elderly and have an illness, you need documentation showing you alerted your landlord about the need for air.
But if the air conditioning is working when you move in, the landlord has an obligation to maintain the unit in working condition.
It’s the type of information Legal Services provides for free in its housing division.
“Please make sure that everything in it works. Start from there, because that’s the ability to go back and enforce it, you know this was working, you need to fix it,” Ettinghoff said.
And don’t withhold paying rent, she said.
“What the law says is that you do not have the ability to quit paying rent. So, if you stop paying rent then you’re opening up a whole potential legal action,” Ettinghoff said.
Legal Services says call them first to learn your options.
Another resource is Code Enforcement. They get involved after citizen complaints, referrals or just observations, and they notify property owners of any violations.
It’s a process that can take time, as many tenants are now learning.
As for those fearing repercussions, Ettinghoff says it is technically unlawful for a landlord to retaliate against a tenant if the tenant has called Code Enforcement on them. However, she’s aware that it still happens.
The owners of Almadura Apartments said they wanted us to come back for a tour — without cameras — and show them the problems so they can be fixed. They still haven’t said when we can do that.
Need tenant assistance?
Call Memphis Area Legal Services at 901-432-4663 or check their website. They also have free clinics on Thursdays and Saturdays where lawyers are available to help you with problems.