NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Gerald Wilson could not believe how he was forced out of the home he'd been renting for three years.
"It's just disgusting that anyone could do anything like this," Wilson said.
It was days before Christmas when the owner suddenly cut off the power.
The single family home in North Nashville was rented by several different tenants who paid weekly.
Icsis Tucker-Roland also lived in the house with her two children.
"Both of them was trying to do virtual learning and then the power shut off on both of them," Roland said.
Roland said she paid two hundred dollars rent every week for one of the four bedrooms in the home.
But she and the other tenants had to move out that day.
"With COVID going on it's hard for you to go to somebody else's house with two children," Roland said when we interviewed her in December.
Roland was caught off guard that cold December morning, so she called the Nashville Electric Service to see why her power was turned off.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates obtained recordings of her calls to NES through a public records request.
In one call the NES representative called the owner of the property and put him on the line.
The owner said, "I am actually trying to put a new house in there. I need to demolish the house as soon as possible."
On the three-way call, Roland spoke directly with the owner, whom she'd never met.
She asked if he knew there were tenants in the house, who now had no power and no place to live.
The owner responded, "It's impossible that there should be anybody living, there's no contract, nothing to my knowledge. The house is under my name. The NES is under my name."
The owner told NES the residents were in the house without his permission and claimed he had told them to vacate the house 60 days ago.
But Roland told us she had been living in the house for two years and showed us a copy of a lease agreement - signed in July - by the same property manager they had been paying for years.
A local church confirmed it had used federal CARES Act money to help both Roland and Wilson pay their rent.
Both tenants said their rent had been paid through the end of the year.
Roland asked the owner on their phone call, "The families here, we got to move out of the house by Monday?"
The owner responded, "Not by Monday, as soon as possible. Monday, I'm going to tear down the house."
Former judge and Metro Councilman Nick Leonardo said landlords should never cut off power while people live inside the home and there has been a moratorium on evictions because of COVID.
"There's absolutely no way these people could have been evicted with this moratorium, so you see desperate times call for desperate measures and individuals are taking really egregious actions," Leonardo said.
He said some landlords are desperate to get renters out.
"It's very disturbing and you see more and more of this," Leonardo said.
Leonardo said two federal courts have recently ruled the moratorium on evictions unconstitutional, but the Centers for Disease Control just extended the moratorium through June.
He said it is inappropriate to cut off power while tenants are still in the home whether there is a moratorium or not.
We played the NES phone call for Councilman Brandon Taylor who represents the area where the rental home was located.
"It's tough to hear. It's extremely hard to listen to," Taylor said.
"These stories happen more than we want to know, more than we want to think," Taylor said.
He said 83% of the people in his North Nashville district rent.
He tried to pass a bill in the Metro Council that would have required landlords give more notice to tenants if they planned to sell their property.
But it failed to pass.
"There's opportunities that will arise out of this conversation where the Council can act," Taylor said.
But that may not be true.
The Tennessee General Assembly is considering a bill that would prohibit local governments from passing regulations that add to, or conflict with, the Uniform Landlord Tenant Act.
It would prevent the Metro Council from passing significant reforms to help renters.
As for the house in North Nashville, the power was never turned back on.
"I need my house empty. We've got to demolish it and NES was supposed to take out the meter," the owner said on his call with NES.
The house was later demolished.
Despite regulations designed to protect her, Roland and her kids had to find a new place to live that night.
"It happened so fast, so then I had to make my way and find other options," Roland said.
Violating tenant rights by kicking them out without notice or even turning off their power is not a criminal offense, it just leaves landlords open to lawsuits.
The reality is, many tenants do not have access to lawyers, especially when they are simply trying to find a new place to live.
We reached out to the landlord, but he has not responded.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates will keep trying to reach him.