Slumlord or trashy tenant? -- Protecting your rights when renting your home

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Andrew Blanchard admits he and his roomates knew Stacey Campfield hadn't finished remodeling when they rented a home at 315 Silver Place, in North Knoxville last August.

"But the guy was a state Representative," Blanchard says.

"We figured, well--he's gonna be a good guy, he's gonna fix this stuff."

The "stuff", according to an inspection from the Knoxville Codes Enforcement office, includes a furnace that can't seem to heat rooms to more than 59 degrees, though Andrew and his roommates set it on 90.

Wiring considered jerry-rigged.

And what's draining, or backing up--into the basement.

Raw sewage.

"I can't even bring friends over because the house smells like feces," Blanchard says.

"It smells like Poo! It's not like he's not known about it, he's known about it since October."

Representative Campfield blames his tenants.

"They've turned the place into Animal House," he says. "Beer cans and trash, everywhere. They've flushed trash bags down the toilet."

Blanchard admits he has seen trashbags in the sewerage lines,
but denies he or his roommates have ever flushed any foreign material.

Code Enforcement has told the four they need to be out of the house by February 8. Representative Campfield will have three months behind that to bring the dwelling up to standard.

But Public Works Deputy Director David Brace believesthe tenants are on less firm a ground, should they break their year's lease.

"I'm not sure when conditions become so challenging that they would justify voiding it," he says.

Tennessee's Uniform Landlord Tenant Act requires landlords comply "with all laws materially affecting health and safety --make repairs promptly and whatever's necessary to keep the premises fit and habitable."

Tenants have to leave the property in no worse shape than when they leased it.

"If I had it to do over, we would have put our foot down and said look," Blanchard says.

"W e wouldn't have gone to the health code probably--we'd just say we won't even pay you until this stuff gets fixed."

"Tennessee law allows you to withhold a portion of your rent, provided you notify your landlord of problems in writing.

You could deduct your costs of repair -- or, if the property is deemed uninhabitable -- move, and not pay rent until the landlord fixes the problems and you're able to return.

Breaking the lease is more murky.

Code enforcer David Brace suggests you inspect any rental property before you sign a lease agreement, and make sure you and you're landlord agree as to the condition of the property you're set to occupy.

"Just like a property owner would call references for a tenant,. you also can check on --does this person have a history with neighborhood codes.?"

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