SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - The pandemic has upended so many lives. That includes a public school teacher who was forced to move out of her apartment – but now has a lesson in resolve and gratitude.
That’s after Hillary Jackson says she discovered these toxic mushrooms and mold growing out of the ceiling. She filed a complaint with the City of Savannah to investigate what she called unsafe living conditions.
But as WTOC Investigates uncovered back in September, the city had stopped those inspections because of the pandemic.
After a WTOC report aired, an attorney took Jackson’s case pro bono. Jackson finally got her deposit back from her landlord.
She told me while it’s a relatively small amount – it’s the big help she needed to move on from this.
“I feel some resolution and I think even more so than the money it’s nice that a little bit of justice, I guess, was served,” Jackson said.
Gratitude is what Jackson has for the help she’s received. When we first met earlier this year, she had recently moved to Savannah for a public school teaching job.
Her apartment on 32nd Street also was her classroom - to teach students virtually. But that all came to an abrupt end in August. When she says she discovered the mushrooms and the mold caused from a leaky air conditioning unit.
Her landlord repaired the leak, but not the soggy ceiling. A test by a mold specialist, Jackson said, revealed the toxic conditions. She and her roommate abruptly moved out.
And filed a complaint with the city to investigate, but then learned code compliance had stopped going into homes for inspections because of the pandemic.
But she didn’t stop there.
“Hillary did everything right. She documented everything, sent letters to the landlord, kept the response, took photographs, took video, which I think is the most compelling evidence. She was an excellent advocate for herself, she just needed that extra help to get this resolved,” Attorney Zach Thomas said.
Thomas agreed to take Jackson’s case pro bono because he already had another one involving the same landlord. He’s a personal injury attorney, but began taking tenant-landlord cases Savannah Mayor Van Johnson put out community-wide call earlier this year.
“Any attorney who has been able to have success and a good practice and can find some time, owes it to the public to give back in a pro-bono way.”
Thomas is one of over 100 attorneys who took the COVID Pledge.
“The whole goal of that pledge was you’re going to have tenants that from a financial standpoint cannot afford an attorney so that may give the landlord, for example, an upper hand that the tenant cannot overcome.”
With his help, Jackson did overcome.
“I’m just so thankful.”
She got her deposit back from the landlord - which marked the end to a stressful time – one that she can now move past.
“And I feel really lucky to have found a lawyer who was willing to help me out.”
The money she got back from her landlord amounts to about $1,600. That included the cost of the mold inspection and a doctor’s visit after Jackson says she became ill.
Sand Dollar Property Management, LLC still disputes the mold - despite the photos and video and the mold report. In a statement, Sand Dollar’s attorney said the landlord signed a release as a part of the settlement to Jackson so there is no legal liability on their end.
Also, the landlord disputes that the property was ever uninhabitable.
Thomas gave some advice for anyone in a similar situation who believes the housing conditions are unsafe.
- Document everything - take photos, videos.
- Give your landlord a reasonable amount of time to make the repairs - ask in writing and document your communication.
- Keep paying your rent.
- Call Georgia Legal Services 1-833-457-7529
- Finally, if you feel your health is at risk - Give notice in writing and explain that you intend to break your lease under a state law known as “constructive eviction.”