From left, Cecilia Prado with Workers Dignity waits with Mosaic apartment tenant Nicolas Alvarado and son Nery, 7, who wait to speak to management about eviction threats at a June hearing. (Photo: John Partipilo)
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention federal eviction moratorium doesn’t end until June 30, but evictions are already starting to rise across the state.
Eviction notices at Mosaic Apartments in South Nashville made headlines over the past two weeks, prompting local community leaders and officials to intervene and prevent nearly 90 families from being evicted.
On Wednesday, the tenants — most of whom are immigrants — met with property managers in a public meeting hosted by Nashville Metro Councilmember Russ Bradford. Hoping to resolve the situation, property managers clarified that they never intended to push the tenants out of their homes, calling the eviction notices a miscommunication. Despite this, tenants demanded retribution, adding that many had already vacated their apartments.
Because tenants believed they had only three days to leave, several families had already packed up or placed their belongings in storage until they found another place to stay. Santos Mendez, a 10-year tenant, had moved out of his apartment into a friend’s house days after the notice.
“I complained about water damage and then was told to leave the apartment. I was not even given the option to move into another apartment,” said Mendez, adding that he feared management would escalate confrontations by calling the police.
Tensions rose during discussions, but the tenants received a bittersweet victory since they were no longer facing eviction and property managers agreed to allow tenants the choice of leaving the apartment complex without penalty.
Others across the state have not been so lucky.
In Knoxville, renters rights groups are scrambling to inform residents of their rights when facing eviction. Despite the moratorium, there are already more than 100 eviction cases per week pushing through the courts, a number that is expected to explode in July.
“The housing market in Knoxville is so overheated right now. Rents and property values are rising so rapidly that working with low-income tenants is not as valuable a proposition to landlords that it used to be,” said Adam Hughes, an organizer for Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment, a civic-rights group.
Organizers spend weekends reaching out to tenants scheduled for court the following week. While organizers are not able to offer financial assistance, Hughes said he hopes to give tenants information they could use to prevent their evictions.
“The amount of things that people don’t know is really astonishing. I’m not saying that people are ignorant but that we have a system that’s set up such that there’s no way for people to be informed of what their rights and options are in this situation,” said Hughes.
Legally, landlords have to file a lawsuit against tenants in order to receive an eviction court order. Notice is required several days in advance, along with a reason for the proposed eviction. Tenants are given a chance to fix the problem, either by paying rent or other corrections, and if nothing is taken care of, the landlord can then proceed with the eviction lawsuit. Tenants will have another opportunity to contest their eviction in court, and the judge will listen to both the tenant and the landlord before making a decision regarding the eviction.
Despite this, landlords are finding other ways to kick tenants out, such as declining their lease renewals, claiming tenants broke the lease’s terms, or other excuses.
In Nashville, Mosaic Apartments tenants complained that their apartments were purposefully being neglected by the management in order to push them out.
Evelia Navarreta, a 19-year tenant, said she had spent a year without air conditioning and that her requests for maintenance had largely been ignored.
“When I come home from a long day of work, the last thing I want is to deal with this,” she said.
She and others organized to draw attention to their living conditions and eviction notices, but soon found their attempts to pay rent were no longer being accepted.
Ana Jimenez, another tenant, had previously paid rent through money orders but was told she now needed a bank account in order for her rent to be processed. She and others believed they were purposefully targeted for their organizing efforts.
Although a landlord cannot legally evict anyone without a court order, tenants had already left their Mosaic Apartments units under the mistaken belief that they could not challenge the eviction notice.
In West Tennessee, Memphis made national headlines when a West Tennessee federal judge ruled that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had overstepped their authority in issuing an eviction moratorium.
As a majority-minority city, Memphis was disproportionately affected by the pandemic, a trend shared with communities of color across the country. Black, Hispanic and Asian households are now more vulnerable to eviction than others and are more likely to be behind on rent than white households, according to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey data.
The Nashville Conflict Resolution Center (NCRC) has helped some Davidson County renters receive rent assistance through a special evictions court. The help is never enough, said one tenant advocate.
“Evictions (are) happening every day, and the pace is about to pick up dramatically,” said Sara Figal, executive director at NCRC.
While local officials can advocate for residents and connect them to resources, once the moratorium has ended, even fewer resources are available.
“State law over the years has really tied our hands on any type of legislation that would protect tenants,” said Bradford.
Even those who work to support renters in precarious positions find themselves personally affected by the coming eviction crisis.
In Knoxville, Hughes is facing eviction himself and believes his landlord wants to flip the home he has rented since 2015.
“It’s interesting to someone who’s spent the better part of the last year dealing with the eviction crisis to have it come to my backyard,” he said.
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