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Looking for local renter solutions

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As the Shelbyville-Bedford County area looks to add more average-income rentals to accommodate the growth of residents, local leaders also look to ensure both renters and landlords are adequately represented while residents can find safe, affordable places to live.   

Zoning violations   

For Misty Kasinger, a renter in the northwest area of Bedford County, her issue arises from improper zoning complaints.   

For several weeks, she and her family dealt with an improperly covered open septic tank. When she filed a zoning complaint, she said she was served a detainer warrant. After more than a month of going back and forth in court, she was able to appeal and went to court Sept. 9. She said the ruling gave her landlord, who does not own the home, immediate possession of the house after she was unable to pay the bond worth a year’s rent.   

She said she came home Thursday to find her possessions outside.   

“I do not understand how the courts can out somebody out of their home and not make the landlord at least prove ownership,” she said.   

Kasinger’s next hearing is in mid-October.Court records show Kasinger was not behind on rent, while any pet fines were paid for—for their one rooster. But the open septic tank—now covered with a concrete pad and still unburied—was an open codes violation.  

“...The truth is, a lot of people are behind on rent,” said Kelly Waller from the Bedford County Listening Project, a renters’ advocacy group.  

“And then when they report their codes violation, suddenly, they get evicted or being behind on rent when they were working with them before. So, it’s less clear cut then. Legally, you can evict them. But you are evicting them while there is an open codes violation. And if you were in a county next door, you could say I’m not going to pay rent until you fix this. Here...’you stay, you pay.’”  

From the landlords  

Still, if renters don’t pay, then landlords don’t pay.  

“It’s pretty simple. If I don’t pay my light bill, Duck River is going to cut my power off,” said Larry Claxton, a landlord in Bedford County.  

Like many other landlords, he says he puts a lot of money into his properties, so when a tenant doesn’t pay, then he as a landlord can only stretch his dollar so much before issuing a detainer warrant.  

County legislation  

Since the County deals with different sets of codes, it’s been challenging getting any legislation passed, according to Waller.  

For example, URLTA (Uniform Residential Landlord-Tenant Act) would “encourage landlords and tenants to maintain and improve the quality of housing,” and clarify the “rights and obligations of landlords and tenants” (URLTA § 1.102).  

It was brought onto the agenda and voted on in May 2020 but was voted down.  

City solutions  

From the City’s standpoint, Shelbyville City Manager Joshua Ray said they ensure housing standards are met adequately.  

“We do this through reports from landlords and tenants. If a property fails an inspection, then there are steps that we can take on that property. This can be a challenging process,” Ray said.  

Meanwhile, the City has posted an information document on their website related to renter and landlord rights and responsibilities, which can be found under Building & Codes Department.  

“I am not sure what all the City can do, but we are actively working to develop a plan and to try to initiate a conversation throughout the community on how we can improve our housing options and improve our communication between all parties involved,” Ray said.  

Homelessness  

At the last City Council study session, the topic of homelessness was discussed. And ensuring renters can find safe, affordable housing is one of the solutions for reducing homelessness, according to Ray.  

Council discussed the potential creation of the HOPE Committee, which will research the issue of homelessness in Shelbyville as well as dive into the rental market to determine what issues currently exist, Ray said.  

But will this be enough?  

According to a Bedford County General Sessions Court case number listing document released at the end of August, over 120 detainer warrants were issued in July and August.  

“One hundred and 20, while we have rising COVID numbers. And we’re starting a commission called HOPE task force, where people are saying ‘what causes homelessness?’ Not having a home causes homelessness,” said Kelly Waller from the Bedford County Listening Project, a renters advocacy group.  

She says one of the main issues causing homelessness is the housing shortage and increasing housing prices make the process difficult for lower-income families to find places to live.  

With the last property reassessments, housing prices in Bedford increased by 34 percent.  

“People can’t afford that. But you have to have somewhere to live. So, you sign the lease and move in anyway,” said Waller. And once you get evicted, that shows on your record, increasing the difficulty in renting another place.  

And, of course, COVID.  

Some council members, such as Stephanie Isaacs, are saying the eviction moratorium should be extended.  

“My heart is breaking for families here in Shelbyville. They shouldn’t be facing eviction during COVID,” said Isaacs in an email to T-G. “I think the eviction moratorium should still be covered Shelbyville.”  

There has been legislation passed throughout the year to protect renters and landlords during COVID-19. In addition, there are also some funding sources that are helping renters and landlords try to navigate this pandemic.  

“Misty is so brave for telling her story and fighting for her home. I hope something can be done. Our community has enough to worry about without these added stressors,” said Isaacs. 

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