Grainger County couple takes landlord to court

BLAINE, Tenn. (WATE) - A couple in Blaine beat the odds when they took their landlord to court in Grainger County recently. They won their case and proved a point.

Several families lived without utilities for more than a month and got fed up.

Tennessee's landlord-tenant law says basic utilities must be provided to renters. In mid-November, a state fire marshal and a state environmental specialist were called to a small mobile home park owned and operated by Dwight Collins. Sewage was found on the grounds and major electrical issues were discovered. Both were ordered shut off, but Collins did not make repairs in a timely manner as ordered by the state.

Fed up with delays, one of his tenants took him to court.

Collins faced a felony charge when his case was called in Grainger County court last week. It was the second time in a month he appeared before Judge Lane Wolfenbarger. 

Previous storyGrainger County families without power, water for weeks

Christina Yarbrough filed a vandalism charge against Collins, her landlord. In court, Dwight Collins agreed to cut a deal with the state. The vandalism charge was dropped and in exchange, Collins would pay court costs, plus $25 in restitution.

The dispute centered around the mobile home Collins rented to the Yarbrough family in Blaine.

The power had been ordered pulled to Christina Yarbrough's mobile home at the request of the state in November.  The state fire marshal also found dangerous electrical connections and ordered power shut off to Christy DeLong's trailer which she rented from Collins.  

In his report, the fire marshal ordered Collins to draw up electrical repair plans, but Collins failed to meet the deadline to fix the trailers. That forced the Yarbroughs to buy a generator so they could provide temporary power to their home. Apparently Collins didn't like that and Christina Yarbrough says he cut the cord.

Previous story: Court date set in Grainger County landlord-tenant dispute

"He cut it with an ax in front of an officer," she said. "And the officer told him that he couldn't do it."

That officer was in court recently ready to testify on Yarbrough's behalf. She had also issued a subpoena to the fire marshal. He, too, was ready to address the court if needed.

Apparently overwhelmed with potential evidence against him, Collins agreed to pay for the extension cord and court expenses while the vandalism charge was dropped. Taking action against their landlord and winning paid off.

"I want people to understand that there are rules, laws, out there protecting us renters. We don't have to live like this," said Christina Yarbrough.

Her husband Stephen said he was okay with making a compromise in this case.

"I don't want anyone have to go to jail. To me it's just a cord, but it's what that cord represents," he said.

Dwight Collins' former tenants were quick to point out they had paperwork from state officials to prove their case before the court if needed.

"If you keep your records and your receipts as we have all done, then it shows you have done your side. You can do something to make him follow the laws as well," said DeLong.

Collins will be back in court next month. He is suing Christina Yarbrough, but she filed a counter civil suit against him. Collins claimed she owed him $10,000 in back rent. However, Christina Yarbrough and her family had lived in the mobile home a little more than three months. 

The landlord-tenant law outlines responsibilities that tenants must follow, as well as regulations landlords have to follow. Since there is no regulatory agency to enact these laws for tenants, they're forced to file court action against their landlords if regulations are not followed.

Collins has since made repairs to his trailers and has listed them for rent.

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