MEMPHIS, Tenn. — If your rent’s going up, you’re not alone. It’s a nationwide trend, and some studies show Memphis rents are increasing more than others.
Jen Langston has spent months trying to get her landlord to fix her roof. She’s afraid a hole in it is letting in critters.
“I need that closed because it’s getting cold,” she said.
There’s also a leaky toilet. She said MLGW crews told her a faulty hot water tank installation caused the leak. Langston spent hundreds out of pocket to fix it.
“They never replaced it. They didn’t send anyone out. I’ve called constantly,” Langston said.
Langston has lived in her East Memphis home for more than 10 years. She said she never had issues getting things fixed until now.
Records show a company called VineBrook paid $38 million for her home and nearly 300 others in February.
The WREG Problem Solvers found multiple LLCs linked to VineBrook. They own around 1,500 homes in Shelby County, including in Memphis, Arlington, Millington, and Collierville.
“When Vinebrook finally came out well after I got it repaired, I asked would they reimburse me she told me immediately, ‘no,'” the educator said.
VineBrook has bought houses in other states as well.
In a press release, the Ohio-based company wrote they focus on homes in “secondary markets” with low costs and higher potential profits.
On its website, VineBrook calls itself a “leading provider” of rental homes since 2007. They also write their “staff is dedicated to providing the best experience” to residents.
But, so far, that has not been Langston’s experience. She said VineBrook wanted to raise her rent by nearly $300. When she refused, she got a notice to vacate the property.
“I’m stressed. I’m stressed beyond stressed,” Langston said.
Alex Uhlmann, an organizer with the Memphis Tenants Union, said he sees renters struggling like this every day.
“There’s no real way folks can withhold rent when you have an outstanding maintenance request so landlords often exploit that,” he said.
Better Business Bureau reviews showed similar situations with other VineBrook renters across the country.
We asked Uhlmann about a potential solution.
“In several states, you can withhold your rent when you have an outstanding maintenance request. That would be a great first step,” Uhlmann said.
Uhlmann is pushing for that change with lawmakers. He wants elected officials to put more resources toward renters.
“Memphis is a majority renter city and if you look at our city budget we don’t act like it. We give a lot of money encouraging homeownership,” Uhlmann said.
The WREG Problem Solvers contacted VineBrook about Langston’s situation. In an email, a spokesperson called it a “miscommunication” with their plumbing vendor.
They said they aim to resolve work orders within five days and “this example shows there is always room for improvement.”
VineBrook also said Langston’s 35% rent increase was abnormal and that their average rent increases last year were around seven percent.
When we returned to Langston’s home after contacting VineBrook, she said everything had been repaired.
VineBrook refunded her more than $700 and backed down from any rent increase. She could stay in her home for the same rent price as the previous year.
“Sometimes we need to speak out. I am a quiet person. I try to handle things on my own but I couldn’t. I couldn’t do this one. It was a battle, ” she said.
Housing experts also say a rental registry requiring landlords to provide a local contact for authorities would help. Memphis City Council has added that to its legislative priority list for this year.
► Got a problem? Contact WREG Problem Solver Stacy Jacobson at 901-543-2334 or email@example.com