Dozens of Atlanta, Ga. tenants were in for a rude awakening last week when police officials showed up at their apartment building to herd them off the property.
Turns out the lights were cut off in the 15-story Presidential Boutique Condotel building while the owners butt heads in court over an electricity bill that allegedly hasn’t been paid since September, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.
A county fire marshall was forced to deem the 15-story building unsafe without power and has kicked everyone out until further notice. Tenants had until 5 p.m. on Valentine’s Day to be out or they were to be arrested, a building worker told the AJC.
“The police came up to my room and told me I had to leave,” said tenant Brittany Thompson. “So, in the midst of packing everything, I had to bring what I had down and then I had to find some place to stay and come back this morning to get the rest of my stuff.”
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Unfortunately, tenants are often at the mercy of their landlord or building owner when it comes to evacuations prompted by safety concerns.
It all depends on the fine print on your lease agreement, according to Amy Bohutinsky, chief marketing officer of Zillow.com.
“If your landlord isn’t paying for utilities, the first step is to confirm whether you or your landlord are legally obligated to pay. Your lease should specify this,” she says. “Assuming that it is your landlord’s obligation to pay for the utilities, the next step is to research your local tenant rights.”
Typically, landlords can only force tenants to leave if there’s a clause in the lease that requires you vacate upon their request, says Your Money Contributor Teri Karush Rogers of Brickunderground.
That means you’ll foot the bill for your own hotel stay if they’ve got to fix a ceiling leak or clean up a meth lab. Otherwise, they’re typically held responsible for covering your relocation costs, according to Rogers.
“If the landlord won’t agree, you can always play hardball and stay put,” she writes. “You wil be entitled to an abatement of rent under the Warranty of Habitability – a law which prevents landlords from substantially interfering with use and enjoyment of your apartment – if your landlord turns your apartment into a construction zone.”