Landlord pressured Waverly renters into 'signing away rights' with new contract

Renters who sign can't hold landlord accountable
Posted at 8:29 PM, Sep 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-09 21:35:51-04

WAVERLY, Tenn. (WTVF) — They’ve paid rent for homes they can’t live in and now neighbors of the Briarwood Apartments say they’ve been pressured into signing an agreement that keeps them from holding their landlord accountable for repairs.

We were there Tuesday as Dawn Schwarz returned to her home, having just paid the rent. She explained how she visits the property almost daily and yet, rarely sees repairs being made.

She knows finding a new place would be too expensive and she would most likely pay more rent elsewhere.

“For what we need, you’re looking at $1,200, $1,300, $1,400 even up to the $2,000 range which we can’t afford,” Schwarz said.

Her only option has been to use the money they got from the Red Cross to pay for a hotel room and hope enough repairs are done in time before Friday when the money runs out.

While some neighbors moved, Schwarz and others elected to continue paying rent. She told us about an agreement she was handed by the landlord, but it wasn’t until after our story aired Tuesday that we saw a copy for ourselves.

Attorney Russell Gill contacted us after obtaining a copy from a renter who, like Schwarz, wasn’t sure if they should sign. Gill described the document as “literally kicking someone while they’re down.”

In the new “release agreement” tenants were told they could terminate their contracts or sign and continue paying rent for a property that some say is still unlivable. Signing means they “acknowledge that the apartment may not be in the same condition as it was before the flood on August 21, 2021, even after repairs are completed by Briarwood.”

According to the contract, these repairs could take months. The contract goes on to add that “there may be lingering conditions that exist,” but whoever signs agrees to “indemnify and hold harmless Briarwood Apartments for and from any and all claims for losses or damages for every nature whatsoever and for any expense therefrom.”

Gill is a Humphreys County native and says he takes this personally. Not only are families forced to sign this new contract, but it’s just another example of why the state should do more to protect rural communities.

Tennessee was one of the first ten states to enact the Uniform Residential Landlord-Tenant Act back in 1975. The rights of both landlords and tenants are laid out in painstaking detail. One policy, in short, says that landlords cannot continue to collect rent without repairing the home to where it’s livable.

TURLTA only applies to counties in Tennesee that have a population of more than 75,000 residents. That includes Anderson, Blount, Bradley, Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, Madison, Maury, Montgomery, Rutherford, Sevier, Shelby, Sullivan, Sumner, Washington, Williamson, and Wilson.

Meanwhile, Humphreys County has a population of about 19,000 people.

“We have an opportunity for the legislature to respond to that and expand TURLTA to apply uniformly to all 95 counties in Tennessee,” Gill said.

It may not help those in Waverly today, but it could in the future. For now, some of these neighbors have elected to pay but not sign. They’re hoping for a little goodwill from their landlords and maybe more options than one.

We did hear from repairmen on Tuesday who say they’re waiting on a state inspection to continue repairs. They told us it could take weeks or months.

Calls to Greer Management have not been returned and our messages have gone unanswered. The Alabama-based company owns nearly 30 properties across Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee.

Renters may apply for FEMA assistance which includes those in Dickson, Hickman, Houston, and Humphreys counties. If your property was damaged in the flood, FEMA is offering help to eligible renters, including students and homeowners.

You can call 1-800-621-3362 to register. Operators are on standby between 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. Multilingual operators are also available.

You can also download the FEMA app and apply from there.

When you apply, you must have the following information available:

  • A current phone number where you can be contacted.
  • Your address at the time of the disaster and the address where you are now staying.
  • Your Social Security number if available.
  • A general list of damage and losses.
  • If insured, the policy number or the agent and/or the company name.

If you have renters insurance you should file a claim as soon as possible. FEMA cannot duplicate benefits for losses covered by insurance. If your policy does not cover all your damage expenses, you may be eligible for federal help.

Remember to take photos and document losses and keep receipts from all purchases related to clean up and repair.