Evictions halted through April under Tenn. Supreme Court order amid coronavirus outbreak

Published: Apr. 1, 2020 at 9:14 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - April 1st is the deadline for millions of Americans to pay their rent.

However with the economic uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people may find it hard to make their payment on time.

Legal experts say landlords still have a right to collect their rent, but they are not allowed to use unlawful tactics to make you leave.

Elonda Robertson and her five children got quite the surprise this week when an MLGW worker showed up to her South Memphis home to cut off her utilities.

"For them to say they disconnecting services because the owner had requested it, I felt this could not be happening this is not true because even with the situation, I got nervous or scared for my children, my family, the COVID 19 going on,” said Robertson.

Robertson’s landlord has filed eviction proceedings, but nothing has been finalized and it’s still in court. Legal experts say the landlord went too far.

"If you do find yourself being subjected to a landlord who has decided to engage in self-help practices whether that be turning off the utility services to your unit or even going so far as changing the locks. Then go ahead and place a call to our office and allow us the opportunity to look into the case and investigate it further once the courts become more open,” said Milandria King, the managing attorney for Fair Housing at Memphis Area Legal Services.

She says those types of practices are in violation of a long-standing mandate in Tennessee.

Plus, King says the Tennessee Supreme Court issued an order earlier this month in response to the COVID-19 pandemic halting all evictions until April 30th.

Memphis Area Legal Services CEO Cindy Ettingoff says the order does not stop landlords from collecting their rent.

If tenants fall on hard times, they should at least try to negotiate payment with landlords.

"The first question would be can you talk to your landlord. Is there somebody there that can deal with or offer part of the payment to or make other arrangements,” said Ettingoff.

Robertson says she was laid off in December and has been paying what she could and trying to catch up, but after communicating with MLGW and the landlord, her utilities were turned back on.

Ettingoff said groups like Catholic Charities offer rental payment assistance.

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