Tenn. tenants face uphill battle if they lose their AC

Published: Jun. 16, 2022 at 5:51 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The heat continues in the Mid-South, setting record-high temperatures on Thursday.

For renters, that heat becomes unbearable when there’s no air conditioning working in their home or apartment.

“When tenants call, they sometimes don’t answer the phone,” said one anonymous resident of College Park Apartments in South Memphis. “We go to the office, and they keep telling us the same thing: ‘Well, we don’t have a timeframe.’”

An anonymous tenant at College Park says she’s been without AC for over a month, having gone to the front office several times, she said, about the AC.

We spoke over the phone with the management company of College Park Apartments, MH Strategies, a sub-group of the property management company Allied Orion Group.

They told us they’ve had no persisting problems with their AC, that their maintenance staff responds quickly to concerns from tenants, with backup staff at the ready during extreme weather.

We told this to the anonymous tenant.

“That ticks me off,” the tenant said. “I know that I’m sitting in a house with no AC, as of right now, and for them to say they’re having no problems, it’s sad.”

Across town, another anonymous tenant spoke with us, this one living at the Residences at Lakeview in Parkway Village off S. Mendenhall.

“I’ve called like every morning for the last week-and-a-half trying to reach out,” the tenant said. “Sometimes I reach people; most days I don’t.”

This tenant showed us a picture of the thermostat in the apartment.

It’s set for 66°, but the actual temperature read 84°.

“I’m just staying at a friend’s house. I got a hotel room for the first couple of nights, but I’m staying at a friend’s house for now.”

Late Thursday evening, the Residences at Lakeview responded to our request for comment:

Cindy Ettingoff is the CEO and General Counsel for Memphis Area Legal Services.

She said Tennessee tenants, unfortunately, are at a disadvantage when it comes to the law in extreme weather situations and the lack of air conditioning.

“Our courts have said that lack of air conditioning, even though it’s 100° outside, does not make an apartment uninhabitable. Lack of heat would, which is interesting, but lack of air conditioning does not.”

Ettingoff told us there are two ways to try to restore AC.

The first, if you have a disability of any kind, is to file an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) complaint lawsuit, but that has multiple steps and can’t guarantee a quick fix to the AC woes.

The other step, the quicker one according to Ettingoff, is to go to local Code Enforcement, but only after you’ve done the due diligence of raising the concern to your apartment’s or property management’s front office.

“Code enforcement is not going to get to you right away because this is not an uninhabitability situation,” Ettingoff said. “They’ll get to you in probably 14 days or so, but at least they’ll get to you.”

This is what our anonymous Residences at Lakeview tenant did.

“(Code Enforcement) said they put it in and gave me a case number,” the tenant said.

Ettingoff says keeping hard copies, whether that be a written letter that you keep a copy of or an email, as evidence is key.

“What you’re trying to establish is you’ve done your part,” she said. “You’ve provided the notice. When nothing happened, you turn to code, and if code... A code violation is a code violation. It’s not your fault.”

The MALS CEO says if consequences fall on tenants for going to code enforcement, then there is legal action that can be taken, especially if you’ve kept your receipts.

“You’ve got to be able to prove that you notified the landlord. That’s why you always want it in writing,” said Ettingoff.

For Thursday, it looks as though the two anonymous tenants we spoke with won’t have AC in their apartment, but they hope that changes before too long.

“I’m letting the windows up, sleeping with the fan on,” the College Park tenant said. “I’m going over to family members houses who actually have air, but you can only do that so much because gas is $5 a gallon.”

Ettingoff said, while unrelated to air conditioning concerns, she has several pending cases of tenants who went to code enforcement because of the inaction of their landlord and may be pursuing one in the near future.

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