LITHONIA, Ga. — The system set up to keep a roof over tenants’ heads during the pandemic is now leaving some landlords without one. That is the case for one woman who returned home from teaching overseas to find out her tenant wouldn’t leave.
"I don’t have any rights to my home," said Joyce Barker.
When the pandemic forced Barker to return to America from teaching in the UAE, she didn’t expect to fight to get her Lithonia home back.
For months she’s been living out of a suitcase, relying on the kindness of friends and now her daughter for a place to stay.
"I’m being shoved from pillow to pillow, from one person’s home to the next person’s home trying to figure out my fate," said Barker through tears.
The Fulton County teacher said her tenant refuses to leave, citing COVID-19 as the reason.
"In my opinion it was or is a way for them to take advantage of the system," said Barker.
Barker said her tenant was on a fixed income but stopped paying after she informed them, 60 days before their lease expired, she’d be taking the property back.
"The tenants have pretty much so stated that due to COVID they were not going to be moving or paying their rent," she said.
In September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended the moratorium on evictions through December 31, giving landlords little recourse.
"The landlord has no mechanism to challenge the CDC order," said J. Mike Williams, a landlord attorney who is not working on Barker's case.
"There is nothing in the order that says if we believe it to be false we can challenge that," he said.
The order encourages tenants to still pay what they can, but if that doesn’t happen, landlords are left with the bill.
"There needs to be some kind of guidelines or policing around these different moratoriums that they should look at case by case," said Barker.
11Alive reached out to Joyce Barker’s tenant, but did not hear back. She has a status hearing scheduled next month, but going to trial over the property could be months away.
UPDATE, Dec. 2: J. Mike Williams has agreed to take on Barker's case pro bono. Her hearing has been pushed up to Dec. 8.