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'Where did I move to?' | Tenants struggle with deplorable conditions at Decatur complex

A renter at the same complex contacted 11Alive about similar conditions.

DECATUR, Ga. — Leaking ceilings, bullet holes in the walls, no hot water.

Those are the conditions tenants, at the Orchard Walk Apartments in DeKalb County, said they have to live under. Neighbors reached out to 11Alive and said their issues are not being fixed in a timely manner and feel stuck.

Monique Norris has lived in Orchard Walk Apartments on Flat Shoals Road in Decatur since November of 2020, but since she moved in during the pandemic, she didn’t walk through before signing her lease.

“When I walked in I was like 'Oh my goodness what did I do? Where did I move to?'" she said.

Norris said the conditions were deplorable upon her arrival at the apartment complex. Over the past two years, she has even asked for the same repairs to be done again.

"We had the ceiling that was leaking (and) we had a hole in the tub that was leaking," she said. "I shouldn’t be going five months without hot water. I've got 50, 60 work orders for the same issues."

Norris has a file of work orders with some dating back to 2020. She also pointed to a hole in the ceiling that was being fixed again, with tools just left on the floor after the workers left.

“It’s just not a safe environment to raise children in,” Norris said.

The mother said they had to move out for three months last March when the unit's ceiling fell in, and right after her family moved back in, a drive-by shooting grazed her son's arm and left bullet holes in the walls.

She quickly asked the complex to fix the holes and was given an invoice right after.

“They tried to charge me $500, $600 to fix that," Norris said. "No man, I’m not paying that."

11Alive reached out to Atlanta Legal Aid attorney, Mara Block who said there are things renters need to do to protect themselves.

Never rent sight unseen

Block emphasized checking out the property before signing to live there.

“Play around with the thermostat, make sure the HVAC is working, turn on the tub, make sure it runs clear and hot water comes out,” Block said.

Search for keywords in the contract

Read through the entire contract to make sure there’s no stipulation making normal repair issues the tenant’s responsibility. 

Important things to search for are fees, tenant responsibility clauses, repairs, and response times.

Document issues

If there are problems, take photos and videos. It helps to document all communications in writing with a date and keep a file if necessary.

Contact Code Enforcement

If issues are not fixed in a timely manner, escalate concerns by contacting code enforcement.

“Code enforcement has the ability to send out enforcers and if there's a violation they can fine the landlord,” Block said.

And finally, if nothing else works, reach out to an attorney.

Norris said that's the one step she hasn't taken yet.

“I would want to get out of my lease at this point," she said. "Without paying a penalty-- they actually should owe me."

Block said even if one does hire an attorney, it’s important to continue to pay rent, even when experiencing issues with the property. While it may seem unfair, if a tenant ends up in court, failure to pay rent is a fast way to get evicted.

11Alive contacted Orchard Walk and their parent company but they did not return calls.

Atlanta Legal Aid operates in five counties in metro Atlanta, click here for more information and resources.

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