WTOC Investigates: What are your options while housing investigations are paused?

WTOC Investigates: Rental rights during the pandemic

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Instead of interior housing conditions being investigated, the City of Savannah has referred tenants to a legal hotline.

An attorney at Georgia Legal Services explained what can be done with limited action by code compliance during the pandemic.

Since the pandemic began, the calls have increased from tenants wanting to learn more about their rights. But something Georgia Legal Services didn’t expect is for the city to pause its housing investigations for a prolonged period of time.

“We usually partner with Savannah Code, and we rely on Savannah code to make those inspections,” said attorney Shaina Thompson, a tenants' rights attorney with Georgia Legal Services. “If they’re not making those inspections, it’s really putting the tenant, especially low income tenants, in a very vulnerable position, especially with COVID-19 right now.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, a housing complaint to the city of Savannah would trigger an interior inspection.

Last year, WTOC Investigates talked with a woman who reported at rat problem. That after she tried for weeks to resolve it with her landlord.

Within a few days, the city inspected the property and condemned it after it found rat harborage and notified the landlord to take care of it.

As Savannah Code Compliance explained in an interview last week, interior inspections like that haven’t happened during the pandemic.

“Out of protection of our own officers. Now in exceptional circumstances or court-ordered circumstances, we will make exceptions as long as the property is vacant for the inspection,” said Kevin Milton, senior director Savannah Code Compliance.

He said he cannot predict when it will be safe to resume in-home inspections, but he will continue to monitor COVID-19 conditions as part of the city’s phased re-opening plan.

In a report last week, we introduced you to Hillary Jackson whose complaint went unchecked. She complained to the city a month ago about a falling ceiling and mold growth.

Code compliance did not send someone to inspect the ceiling conditions because of the pandemic.

The landlord denied allegations of mold, despite the video in the report, and says the ceiling repairs have been made. But there was no city oversight in that process.

“We understand the balance for Savannah Code to make sure their employees are safe as far as covid-19, but there is also the other side of that safe and health risk for the tenants themselves,” Thompson said “So there definitely has to be a balance there.”

So, without an inspection, what are your options? Georgia Legal Services had some tips.

  1. Keep paying your rent on time, if possible.
  2. Document everything.
  3. Contact your landlord in writing to make him or her aware of the problems and ask for the problem to be repaired. The law allows for the repairs to be done in a reasonable amount of time.
  4. If you believe the conditions are unsafe, have another place lined up where you can live in the meantime.
  5. Contact Georgia Legal Services on its hotline 877-220-0127 and consider filing a complaint with the city by calling 311.

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