MEMPHIS, Tenn. — When a frustrated renter called code enforcement to get debilitating problems with her house fixed, she also called the WREG Problem Solvers.
From the outside, the stately home occupying the corner of Peabody Avenue and South Camilla Street needs work. Still, Kimberly St. John saw potential. She and her husband moved in more than a year ago, along with his mom and her grandmother.
“We saw this was a bigger home and the landlord told us they were going to fix these things,” St. John said. “All of the gutters, fix windows, the brick.”
She showed the signed agreement with the owner, Todd Frankel. They agreed he’d make the repairs and she would also help out.
But a year later, not enough had changed.
“It’s been over and over the same story. It’s affecting my grandmother’s health. She has congestive heart failure,” St. John said.
So she called Memphis code enforcement and then the WREG Problem Solvers.
Code enforcement cited the owner for more than 24 violations.
“I honest to God didn’t think it was that bad,” St. John said. “The brick on the outside of the home is so bad they’re going to have to replace it. There’s no mortar in it.”
When the WREG Problem Solvers visited after the inspection, there was someone there working.
“They got the code enforcement letter. That’s why he’s over here. That’s why he started all of the sudden,” St. John said.
After the citation, her landlord raised her rent by $500. She called it retaliation.
The Problem Solvers wanted to ask Frankel about this and the delayed repairs. We’d heard he lived in California but visits Memphis, so the Problem Solvers went to the office when we thought he might be in town. We found him in his truck in the parking lot.
“We’re trying to get an update on what’s going on at 360 South Camilla. There’s 25 violations from the city of Memphis. Are you going to fix them?”
“If you looked over there you’d see they’ve been working on it right now. Yes, I am an out-of-state investor and what you really ought to be asking is 12 years ago this area used to be called the hood,” Frankel said.
He talked about upgrades he’d made to the entire neighborhood, which he called “Peabody Valley.”
In fact, records show Frankel owns 17 properties.
He pointed us to the website where he shows “before” pictures with a headline calling the area “The Hood.”
The Problem Solvers asked Frankel about the condition of those other properties he said he had revitalized.
“Will there be other code violations?”
“No there’s nothing else,” Frankel said.
But records showed a different story: 20 recent code violations with issues ranging from ceiling repairs to flea infestations to mold.
Frankel has a different opinion of the job he’s done.
“I come in here. I have taken an area that was a [expletive] and turned it into what’s a very good area,” he said.
We tried to shift the focus back to St. John’s home: “There’s been a tenant living there for a year, yet there’s more than 25 code violations and those haven’t been fixed. Why not?”
“When she moved in that place, we did a walk through. It wasn’t me, it was my manager. They went through, said here’s what you want done,” Frankel said.
He blamed his staff and the renter herself for mishandling the situation.
“You’ve gotta know the law. The tenant is supposed to advise me of the problems,” he said.
But according to Cindy Ettingoff, director of Memphis Area Legal Services, if a landlord knows about problems before someone moves in they have to make the upgrades. They also can’t raise someone’s rent to pay for the changes.
Records prove Frankel did know about the issues, as he had similar violations at the South Camilla Street home dating back to 2017.
“So do you plan to fix all of these violations?”
“Yeah absolutely,” he said.
When we started asking about her rent, he started to walk away and asked us to leave the property.
It leaves St. John with a feeling of helplessness.
“The roof has got squirrels living in it running around. It rains in the home,” she said. “I find it crazy you can buy properties but you cannot fix my house.”
Frankel later said he raised her rent to afford the $35,000 worth of updates required by code enforcement. Ettingoff called that move illegal.
According to a spokesperson for the city of Memphis, code enforcement case continues to monitor updates at the home.