DECATUR, Ga. — For weeks, trash has been piling up in a DeKalb County senior citizen community. It got so bad that Magnolia Circle Apartment tenants started reaching out to 11Alive for help.
Russell Williams said the trash had been piling up since before Christmas.
"This is a health hazard for us," he said. "Not only that, but it’s attracting rats and all kinds of rodents and it needs to be taken care of. This is just unacceptable. Completely unacceptable.”
The trash had brought a mountain of frustration for Williams and his neighbors.
Cheryl Taylor said someone needs to be held accountable.
"I don't think it necessarily rests solely on the property manager because he can only do as much as he's allowed to do but the issues are blossoming," she said. "They were little bitty things and now they've become big things."
They say that for more than two weeks, there has been lots of garbage accumulating and few answers.
11Alive Paola Suro called Initiative, the company that owns the complex, and left a voicemail.
Nearly two hours later, a large trash container was dropped off. Resident Edwin McRae said this will help ease, but not solve, the problem.
"We really appreciate you calling and having this disposal container but we are elderly and we can’t pick up trash and throw it in there," he said. "The main thing is having maintenance requests filled in on a timely manner. You can have toilets stuffed up, a leaking sink, and it goes on for weeks. We fulfilled a lease - all we want is timely maintenance."
A property manager approached 11Alive while crews were at the complex. He said residents put things inside the trash compactor that broke it and they’re now trying to fix it.
But tenants, like Barbara Turner, wonder why he didn’t say anything sooner, and why it's taking so long to address this.
“In the past, management has sent us notice telling us the compactor was broken and to leave our garbage in front of our door but this time we have not gotten an official notice from management," Turner said.
Throughout the day, younger residents stepped in to throw trash in the bin that arrived Tuesday afternoon, but tenants say they are frustrated at the lack of communication.
"We are senior citizens," Williams added. "We feel like we're being totally disregarded and we're being disrespected but at the same time, they're collecting our rent payments and doing nothing."
Atlanta Legal Aid offered insight on what to do if tenants find themselves in a similar situation.
Attorney Rachel Lazarus explained that Georgia landlords are legally required to keep premises in good repair.
"That's no matter what kind of dwelling unit it is," she said. "The problem becomes when reality and law meet up, because sometimes landlords don't, and there are often not great remedies for tenants."
Before pursuing legal action, Lazarus recommends giving the landlord a reasonable amount of time to respond, then hiring someone, and deducting their services from your rent.
"Give them a quote-unquote, 'reasonable' amount of time to do the repair and the reasonableness is going to depend on what the repair is," she explained. "Then notify them, 'Hey, if this doesn't get done, I'm going to hire someone and deduct it from the rent.'"
Lazarus said that as long as tenants give them reasonable time to respond, they don’t need their landlord to sign off on hiring someone. She says if renters have issues outside of their unit, like the senior citizens, try calling code enforcement or the county.
"But when it's inside the unit, some counties don't have that - they don't have code enforcement," she said. "Some do, it just depends where you are. So then the tenants' options get a little harder."
As a final remedy, she recommends hiring a lawyer who can write up a letter to send to one's landlord and get them acting fast.
No matter what, she advises documenting everything through video and pictures.
"Document every phone call you make: Who did you talk to? When did you talk to them? When did you leave a message? What phone number did you call?" she said. "Every receipt, take pictures constantly. Pictures really are so valuable, take video if there's something active going on. That way, if you do later, file a lawsuit or as a defense to an eviction, you say 'Hey, this place wasn't worth what you were charging for it. So I should be able to recoup some of what I paid you.' Then you've got the documentation to back that up."