Editor’s note: Today’s stories and photos are part of a continuing T-G series on the growing number of homeless persons in Bedford County.
Bedford County Listening Project, a renter’s advocacy group, hosted a “Homeless Warming Party” on Tuesday to bring attention to what the group described as an unfair eviction and the lack of affordable housing in Shelbyville.
The term “homeless warming” is a play on a housewarming party. But since many residents, like Cara Grimes, are being evicted from their rentals, more and more people are having to face the possibility of homelessness.
As housing costs keep climbing across the country, more than 11 million Americans report being behind on rent payments, according to Surgo Ventures, an action tank with the goal of solving world health problems.
Amid rising costs of rent and overall cost of living seen across the country, Grimes said she was behind on rent. She said her neighbors were paying $500 monthly and are now having to pay $700.
After missing her payment, Grimes was served a 7-day notice and told to pay by June 7. However, she said her money order, which she tried to give for payment on June 7, was denied by her landlord. She was in General Sessions Court Wednesday.
Grimes had several defenses ready, citing that the landlord gave her improper notice. The detainer warrant was prematurely filed, that is, the detainer should not have been filed until June 8, because the notice period was through June 7. She said she did comply with the notice requirement to pay her rent.
Plus, “I had the rent money on June 7th when it was due, and I had the rent money today [Wednesday.] It really feels like my landlord is retaliating against me for speaking up about renters’ rights for the past two years.”
Her landlord agreed to forego the cost of rent. But she was given until June 27 to move out—along with her husband and two young kids.
“I felt intimidated by [Judge Charles] Rich, who made it seem like being evicted was a good deal for me and my family,” Grimes said. “It’s not right. This whole process was wrong.”
Grimes said she had no idea why her money order was rejected, while nowhere in her lease does it specify that a seven-day notice can be served.
While sitting in court Wednesday afternoon, another case was brought up involving a renter being evicted with a premature detainer.
“In that case, a 30-day notice was given, and the landlord tried to take possession prior to those 30 days. Judge Rich ruled that the court cannot intervene until the notice expires. This is the same logic (one of three that Grimes was prepared to argue) that should have led to the dismissal of Cara’s detainer warrant,” Ashley Bachelder from the BCLP explained.
Grimes has been a leader with BCLP for two years. “I’m going to keep fighting for myself and renters because this is what we’re up against and this is why it needs to change,” she said.
“This is really personal, and I wish I didn’t have to do this as a mother of two,” Grimes said. At Tuesday’s event, several neighbors and members of the BCLP came out to show support for Grimes.
Bachelder added, “Being evicted in small town and rural areas often means you not only lose your home, but your community. Cara is searching for housing as far as an hour away, because there’s such a shortage of rental housing in our community.”
She added, ““We’re better when we’re in community together. We want landlords to work with their tenants.”
Attending the recent “Homeless Warming Party” were Shelbyville City Council members Stephanie Isaacs, Marilyn Ewing, and Gary Haile.
Isaacs said Shelbyville needs more affordable housing and more homeless shelters. She said she has reached out to non-profits like Open Table in Nashville, which helps with the homeless community.
All the new development that costs upwards of $250,000 makes her “nervous,” she said. “We have to be taking care of our folks here first.”
To combat this common theme of landlord retaliation, Isaacs said she has suggested enforcing landlords to get permits before the lease out properties.
“We don’t want to stop people from doing business. But Bedford is full of great people who want to raise their families, work and need a place to live that’s not falling apart,” she said. “We need to hold landlords accountable too.”
Isaacs has been talking with City Council member Henry Feldhaus about finding solutions to improve communication between tenants and landlords. “Apparently, there is not a method in Tennessee to do a permitting process,” Feldhaus, who has also been in discussion with City Attorney Ginger Shofner and City Planner Waleed Albakry. “Cities in particular don’t have any authority to do something like that.”
When the population gets to over 60,000, then counties can begin looking at legislative solutions, Feldhaus said.
Additionally, if the City did get in a permitting process, they would have to hire an employee to oversee the process and inspections. Those fees for landlords would in turn cause rents to go up more, according to Feldhaus.
“It’s becoming a major issue nation-wide; it’s not just Shelbyville,” Feldhaus added. “But I do sympathize with their plight. It’s a difficult situation to be in.”
City Council is in the process of finding a new city manager. Isaacs said she hopes that the one hired will be familiar with housing issues.