Savannah offers to help displaced residents after landlord crack - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Savannah offers to help displaced residents after landlord crackdown

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Alderman John Hall Alderman John Hall
SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -

Close to 200 people who are living in illegal rooming houses in Savannah are looking for a new place to live after their landlord got into big trouble with the city.

The city took the landlord, Ike Lewis, to court. They said he was renting homes for $500 or $600 and then turned around and rented them out to multiple people for $125 a week.

Twelve people lived in a multi-unit house on East 41st Street. They are now looking for a new home.

The city provided WTOC with a list of eight addresses of rooming houses that are set to be shut down that  run by Lewis.

WTOC tried contacting Lewis and left a message for him Friday. Lewis, along with emotional residents and the National Action Network, appeared before the City Council on Thursday afternoon to plead his case for his residents. Several of the buildings are on West 36th Street and Savannah's west side. 

Residents showed WTOC the letter from Lewis late last week telling them they had until Aug. 9, that's when utilities would be shut off.  

"When they are coming down on him, it's the tenants who have to suffer. We are all suffering now. We all have to find a place to stay. He actually stuck his neck out for us and when they came to him saying he needed to get this done and that done, it got done," Marquis Gates, a tenant, told WTOC.

Many of the residents had nothing but nice things to say about Lewis and how he treated them and ran the buildings, even though the city says what he was doing was illegal. 

One alderman, however, was not so impressed with Lewis. John Hall told WTOC Lewis took advantage of his tenants, was motivated by greed and money, and broke the law.

"It's reprehensible that he was preying on people and this community," Hall said.

Hall said he has sympathy for the residents, many of whom can't afford rent deposits and other moving costs. However, he has zero sympathy for the man who he says made a lot of money off the people who believe he was doing them a "service."

"He was doing pretty well and I think what we calculated before we left council chambers was somewhere around half a million dollars a year and not putting any back into the properties," Hall said. "In fact, Mr. Lewis was not supposed to lease or rent anything by a cease and desist order in 2010."

"He didn't make us live here. We came because we had no place else to go and it was the best looking of the rooming houses I've ever seen," Gwendolyn Gates told WTOC.

Gates, her son Marquis, and Yvette McElroy are just three of the nearly 200 residents who say they rented from Lewis and are now looking for a place to live. They say Lewis was a good landlord and had no idea he was doing anything illegal.

"It was a surprise to me. I thought all of his buildings were legit," McElroy said.

"It was a blessing and then it was a burden," Gates said.

With two weeks until utilities are shut off, they want the city to help them out.

"The shelters are full. Where are we going to go? Under the bridge? Salvation Army can't take us. They don't have any room," Gates and McElroy said.

"The city will do all we can," Hall told WTOC.

However, Hall has other hopes for Lewis.

"I just hope that with the crackdown yesterday, he will take his entrepreneural skills to another community," Hall said.

Some of the residents met with Mayor Edna Jackson after Thursday's City Council meeting. They said the mayor told them she would put residents in touch with the housing authority for assistance. McElroy and Gates said they've each been on the waiting list for Section 8 housing for years. 

As of 7 p.m. Friday, Lewis had not returned WTOC's messages.

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