ATLANTA — Georgia renters are facing a harsh reality as evictions are underway in some circumstances and on pace for others. But some landlords are accused of trying to evict tenants behind on rent without going through the legal process.
“There was like police there for multiple days. She didn’t serve him or anything. She didn’t properly go through the measures,” said Rae Pheonix who watched police line his street in May while his East Point neighbor reported his landlord for theft.
“You came up in here and took all of my groceries. That was like close to $500 worth of stuff that you took,” said tenant Zachary Brown. He recorded his landlord Joyce Sneed leaving the home and told police she had been harassing him in an eviction attempt.
Because of a COVID-19 related job loss, Brown had not been paying rent since March, soon after he had rented a room in the home. Paying roommates were relocated to another property, but Brown said he had nowhere else to go. It happened during the statewide moratorium on evictions. “In the pandemic it’s even worse to do that to somebody because people are going through hard times, you know,” said Pheonix.
Days later, Brown called police again saying Sneed had come by unannounced to show rooms to other potential tenants and cut the water off. According to a report, Sneed told police Brown had broken into the home, didn’t live there and threatened her. Police broke up the argument and left Brown to live in the house. “They mentioned to her that you are not allowed to disconnect or turn off any utilities while someone is residing here at this address, nor can you touch their belongings or have vehicles, or anything moved. You cannot touch anything,” said Brown.
For now, Brown remains in the home. The utilities have been shut off again and he has a pro-bono lawyer who sent Sneed a cease and desist on cut-offs.
“My organization is a non-profit organization that creates affordable housing for families from low to moderate income,” said Sneed in a video posted on No Limits Community Development Corporation’s Facebook page.
Several other residents, some who were paying rent, said Sneed and her organization have tried to evict them during the pandemic without the use of courts. “At one point they were telling me they don’t care about no police officers, they don’t care nothin' about no officials, no judge, no state, no attorney, nobody dealing with the government. They wanted me to either… get the money or leave,” said Brown.
“He tells me, she don’t want your money. She just want you out,” said Jerome Bryant, a former tenant who rented a room in a Decatur house from Sneed. Bryant said the air conditioning had stopped working and at one point he moved into a hotel while he paid someone to fix the unit. Bryant said he and Sneed sought to agree on a new rental debt. “Other than that, they ain’t have no problem out of me for no money. So why are you evicting us? Is it because we’re asking you to fix stuff? This is no more than you’re supposed to do,” said Bryant.
Sneed’s property manager gave Channel 2′s Nicole Carr her cell phone number earlier this month.
“You have no interest in talking to me?” Carr asked Sneed over the phone.
Sneed did not want to be recorded but did go on to say she’d never tried to evict anyone and in Brown’s case the utility company, not Sneed was behind the cutoff because of non-payment, something she can’t control with a non-paying tenant. She did not respond to the follow up attempts for an on-the-record interview to detail what is happening at the properties and the challenges her organization may face.
“A landlord is not allowed under any circumstances in Georgia to set a tenant out without going through and completing the entire judicial eviction process,” said Erin Willoughby the Director of the Clayton Housing Legal Resource Center.
The strain and stress between landlords and tenants are at the center of rising concerns surrounding evictions and the changing rules. Eviction proceedings resumed across the country this summer. In Fulton County alone, there was a backlog of 9,000 cases in August.
The Atlanta Regional Commission Tracker shows landlords beginning the eviction process for 18,000 renters in five Metro Atlanta counties since March 1, 2020 as the U.S. began recognizing the pandemic.
Beginning September 4, 2020, the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put a stop to evictions for low-income tenants, halting many court cases until the end of the year.
“So, if a judge rules in favor of the landlord, the tenant can appeal. If the tenant appeals, it actually will hold up that case until they can settle it,” said Maria McKee, a Fulton County Marshal. Marshals carrying out scheduled court orders are the only legitimate way to legally evict tenants.
Landlords and tenants also can come up with their own agreements to move forward while the courts are closed.
“What I do caution though is if you do talk to your landlord and you do work something out. Make sure you get that agreement in writing, signed by both parties and keep a copy for your own records,” said Willoughby.
Beyond the courts, there is not a lot of recourse for landlords. The CDC moratorium is set to expire on December 31, 2020.
© 2020 Cox Media Group