Back in September of 2013, we were at District Court to support a RTHA Member in an escrow hearing. While waiting for their case to be called we found ourselves listening to two brilliant women absolutely school a District Court judge on their rights. We talked to them out in the hallway after, and about a month later Kori (pictured above, right) and her partner Nicole (above, left) showed up at a Member Meeting to talk about their extensive experience fighting for justice from their landlord and the courts. Being strong fighters for their own rights, they quickly joined Right to Housing Alliance as Members, soon were nominated to the Leadership Council, and we’re very happy to announce that Kori is now the first addition to the RTHA staff. But we’ll let her tell it here…
By: Kori Jobes
I was a tenant in West Baltimore in the Mid-Atlantic Realty, Carroll Gardens community. It was my first rental and I was excited. My girlfriend and I were in search for affordability, convenience, and safety. Upon moving in in Dec. 2011, we didn’t notice the small things that should have been BIG warnings. During our walk through, my biggest complaint was the carpet. We were told that the unit had hardwood floors. Our next complaint was the skylight in the bathroom having spider webs which let us know there was an insect problem. We requested that the skylight be sealed to eliminate the insect problem. Needless to say, it never got fixed. We made due with the carpet, but we were now aware that these people were liars– willing to say and do whatever they needed to do to get the property rented.
We called maintenance at least once a week until August complaining of our toilet flooding. The challenge was finally remedied properly, with them finally snaking all the pipes in the basement, pulling out loads of gunk and trash left by the previous tenants. We were relieved that our troubles were over! Or so we thought.
The storm that changed many lives the fall of 2012 was the beginning of a whole list of challenges for us in this rental property. During the Sandy storm we faced flooding in our basement. We had to go down in the basement on the hour to scoop water from our basement doors to prevent the water coming back into the basement, only to find that the water found another entrance. Our basement walls began to leak. We were forced to move items that weren’t destroyed and replace the items that were.
We called maintenance immediately and left multiple messages on the emergency line because the water had no outlet. It took us a week to finally get a call back. By that time we had noticed that the Sandy storm was only the beginning and that our basement leaked every time it rained. After another week passed, while still waiting for maintenance to come from our first complaint, I contacted the leasing office telling them there was a thick smell in the basement. They said someone would come. Still no one came. By this time it was our first Thanksgiving and it was so discomforting knowing we were living with “something” going on in our basement that we couldn’t identify, but so desperately wanted fix so we could use our basement again.
The worst part of all was that while going through this all, we didn’t think to look for a new place and missed the deadline to move out before the lease automatically renewed. So unfortunately we were stuck.
In December of 2012 we contacted the leasing office once more about our lasting issues since the storm and our concern of mold because the smell in the basement was not seeping to the first floor and we were constantly buying cleaning solutions and scented disinfectants to keep the overwhelming smell down. The leasing manager told me, “I apologize but I can’t make the maintenance men do what they don’t want to do.” She gave us the number to corporate.
This was the lowest thing I had ever heard and was completely thrown. Nicole and I had just about had enough. We began our fight because we refused to pay another months rent without our challenges being properly handled. We began calling 311 seeking help. We had inspectors come in and write up violations which forced maintenance to come out. The inspectors even mentioned to us that we should file for escrow, which is when you pay your rent to the courts until the work is completed, the courts would then dispense the funds appropriately. We looked up the corporation on the Better Business Bureau and found that they changed their name multiple times because of low ratings.
We were in our first escrow for about five months. We literally watched them paint over EVERYTHING! Nothing was fixed and that was satisfactory to the courts. The resurfacing of our challenges and by this time, a new-found leak had forced us into our 2nd escrow case. When we left our hearing we were approached by the Right to Housing Alliance. They explained that they met every Monday and reassured us that we aren’t the only people in search for peace and dignity. Housing is a human right and we were definitely not being afforded our rights to safe and adequate housing. She invited us to a meeting that we didn’t expect would change our lives.
While experiencing this second escrow case we were faced with the maintenance men entering our unit without knocking, our doors being left unlocked, items coming up missing, and not to mention it was different men all the time coming in and out of our unit saying they were maintenance but when we called the leasing office they weren’t even aware that maintenance was working in our unit that particular day.
Nicole and I had begun going to the weekly meetings with RTHA. We received info and suggestions from attorneys on how to approach our escrow case and ways to be prepared when going to court. We heard stories from other tenants in similar situations with their landlords. We canvassed other properties of tenants that were living in the shadows of our rights as I once was. We heard people give their opinions on the relationships formed between the court system, inspectors, and the landlords which just really hit home for us because we would see the inspector and our leasing office manager out front our house laughing and giggling and the inspector would watch them paint over things and mark it abated. We had also experience the judge not allowing us to speak in our defenses. He immediately labeled us problem tenants because we voiced how our right to quiet enjoyment was not afforded to us and that the landlord was constantly violating our rights with their approach to fixing our unit and we wished to be relocated because of the mold. He had also ordered us to live in our unit with no heat and mold, even knowing that the mold had caused me to develop asthma. He listened to the inspector that allowed them to paint as a cover up.
Their actions ultimately forced Nicole and I to relocate on our own. After finding a new home where we are much more relaxed and have a peace of mind, we were able to put more focus on RTHA and were nominated for the Leadership Committee.
We went to Annapolis for Renter’s Day in January 2014, which was so enlightening. We were able to voice our concerns, discuss legislation that heavily effect tenants, and just hear feedback from senators that once reside in Baltimore. One senator even mentioned his concern with the rent court system regarding the relationships I mentioned before; and his idea on how to correct this challenge.
Everyone that knows me knows that I like to share anything I learn with as many as I can. I hate to see people fall victim to things within their own power to fix. I find that knowledge is power and that there is strength in numbers so I chose to submit this story because there will always be someone out here who faces the challenges that I once faced. I am now employed with the Right to Housing Alliance, leading a movement of tenants just like myself.