By Desiree Taylor
“Pay your rent or else,” may be a matter-of-fact rule for landlords and their tenants. But for Holly Ray, Managing Attorney for LSA’s Huntsville office, there are no excuses for providing a dangerous place to live or violating the protections afforded to tenants under Alabama law. Recently, she spoke about tenants’ rights for vulnerable senior citizens at a community event in Huntsville.
“We face a lot of issues with senior citizens who live in substandard housing,” Ray said. “They are unable to perform repairs themselves, unable to afford to move, and they get taken advantage of far too often.”
Ray states that “Alabama law does not require much for housing to be habitable. Landlords must provide heat, running water, and sanitary facilities in good working order. Believe it or not, our law doesn’t even require air conditioning to be provided – but if it is, it must be kept in good working condition.”
Holly Ray spoke extensively about housing law and its effect on seniors during the PEACE Coalition/Caregiver College’s eighth annual Elder Abuse Awareness event held June 16 in Huntsville. The event, which welcomed more than 20 organizations and businesses throughout Huntsville, offered informational sessions about tenants’ rights, evictions, foreclosures, Medicare and Medicaid programs, Alzheimer’s disease/Dementia, and hospice services among other topics of interest, to senior caregivers.
Ray stated that tenants and landlords have specific rights and responsibilities. “A landlord must maintain a rental property and keep it in good repair,” Ray said. “However, one common misconception is that a tenant can stop paying rent if repairs aren’t made. Under Alabama law, you must keep paying your rent because if you stop, you will likely face eviction for nonpayment of rent. You practically lose the fight automatically. There are options to fight a landlord that fails to make repairs – your best plan of action is to document your problems, document your contact with the landlord, then see a lawyer. We may be able to help you convince your landlord to make the repairs, or if that fails, sue to get part of your rent or moving costs back.
“There are defenses to the eviction process,” Ray said, “but you have to act fast. Evictions run quickly in the State of Alabama. People think you have to be a month late to face eviction, but that is not true. Most rent is due the 1st of the month, and is considered late after the 5th. The Landlord will give you a seven-day ‘right to cure’ notice to pay up, and if you fail to pay, your case will go to court. These lawsuits carry the shortest deadline for a response of any civil suit – a whopping seven days to respond to the summons. They’re set for court about two weeks after you respond. The court will look at the lease, and if you aren’t in compliance, you could face eviction as soon as five weeks after that missed rent payment.”
Serving low-income residents of more than 14 counties in Huntsville, Legal Services Alabama’s Huntsville office provides free civil legal help in the areas of: housing, consumer protection, domestic violence, public benefits and education.
For more information about LSA and the services it provides, visit: www.legalservicesalabama.org.