Keeping Warm When You Rent: Knoxville Can Put Heat On Landlords

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Knoxville (WVLT) - For some, the worry isn't about how they'll pay the heating bill, but keeping the furnace working, period.

Volunteer TV's Gordon Boyd looks at what options you have if you're in a dispute with your landlord over repairs.

If you've ever rented, you can relate. Your landlord calls it fixed. You call it a band-aid.

In Knoxville, you do have a recourse.

The Housing Code may not get the furnace fixed immediately, but it can put heat on a property owner.

They try to keep their thermostat just below 70.

But UT juniors Erinn, Stephanie and Katie say even their fleeces have trouble keeping them warm at night.

"Somedays it'll be fine, it'll work great. Other days, I'll blow out cold air. What is a problem is the two bedrooms upstairs don't get heat at all," says student renter Stephanie Hafertepen.

"Providing adequate heat is one thing the housing code addresses," says David Brace from the Knoxville Public Service Division.

"We had maybe a five minute walkthrough with six other people," says Stephanie.

Four UT juniors say they knew their first off-campus house wouldn't be flawless, but they're expecting almost $1,100 a month rent would buy more of a home sweet home.

"We had to use our own money to buy flea bombs. There was mold beneath our sinks," says Erinn.

Loose trim, drafty windows, the landlord says he's sent repair crews several times. But "We're really upset about the fact that there's no permits for people doing the electrical work and furnace work," says Erinn.

"After six weeks of not having heat, and freezing, and coming down here, seeing our breath in the morning, and getting sick, we thought we needed to do something," says Stephanie.

Something was a city codes inspection, that found almost four dozen concerns.

From leaks, to a heat pump installed without a permit.

"The furnace needs to get fixed, space heaters obviously have their own risks," Brace.

From space heaters, to smoke detectors, to windows that don't function at all.

The landlord's on notice, sixty days to start repairs, with proper permits, or inspectors or face condemnation.

"To possibly vacate an income producting property is pretty good motivation for an owner to follow through and make improvements to those properties," Brace says.

A shareholder in the property's management firm tells WVLT licensed contractors will start repairing the furnace and other problems as soon as the permits are pulled, probably within three days.

In Knoxville, filing a complaint is as simple as dialing 311.

Codes Enforcement promises to have an inspector out in three business days, provided you're there to let him or her in.

Most problems, a landlord gets two to four months to fix.

A critical safety violation could get it shuttered immediately.

As a last resort, a citizens building board can order a property demolished.

In this particular case, "I think they're gonna halfway do it to get us to hold off, but I don't think it's gonna be repaired to the fullest extent," says student renter Erinn Gummer.

"We've definitely learned a lesson from this, to rent from a credible source, maybe do a background check, and find someone who has experience with these people," says Stephanie.

A spokesperson for Campus Rents, the property shareholders, maintains the company is proud of its facilities and has been at 100 percent occupancy for seven years. "When something is called to our attention, we take care of it in a timely manner."