Landlord skips repairs, mortgage payments on home

Landlord skips repairs, mortgage payments on home of tenant with special needs son

Canizares said the front door is difficult to open because of the knob. Canizares said the front door is difficult to open because of the knob.
She said she needs a safe home to help care for her disabled son. She said she needs a safe home to help care for her disabled son.
Her son, Stephen, paid $800 to help keep the house out of foreclosure. Her son, Stephen, paid $800 to help keep the house out of foreclosure.
Another example of the damage around the home. Another example of the damage around the home.

6 On Your Side Consumer Investigator

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - A Knoxville mom who cares for her profoundly disabled child has bailed out her landlord who had not paid the mortgage on the home the woman rented.

The landlord also ignored repairs that were part of the rental agreement.

Back in June, Sunny Canizares paid two months rent in advance, expecting to move in July 1.

But the move was delayed because repairs to the house weren't ready.

Eventually, she got into the North Knoxville home on Aug. 1, but even then little had been done to the place. She had given notice to her former landlord and was forced to move in anyway.

Shortly after settling in, she learned her new landlord was about to lose the house.

Life is not easy for Canizares and her adopted son, Gabriel, who she calls Jou Jou.  

She adopted the 11-year-old ten years ago after he was abused and severely injured by his birth parents.

Earlier this year, Canizares, who is now a single mom, needed a bigger place to live.

She and her son moved into their North Knoxville house in August, a month after her landlord was supposed to have it ready.

But there were still a number of repairs needed.

There was a big hole in the front porch that wasn't patched, the bathroom door wasn't widened to accommodate Jou Jou's wheelchair, a dangerous-looking light fixture in the laundry room wasn't fixed and Canizares said the front door's knob made the door difficult to open and close.

"You see the door knob, all the air comes in and out. The heat goes out," she said. "The door knob doesn't even fit, it doesn't belong here."

The punch list written in July by her landlord, Jeff Gencay, lists the repairs.

"If you read this sentence right here, 'All renovations on the property will be done and completed on or before August 1'," she said, reading from the agreement. "Nothing happened."

The rent is $600 per month. Canizares paid $1200 in advance of the move.

She then got another letter in September saying the mortgage on the house was behind and was headed for foreclosure.

"I have a mentally and profoundly handicapped son. I cannot be in the street with my son," Canizares said.

Then her landlord asked if she would pay the mortgage out of her own pocket, but she had no more money left to give. She went to her 20-year-old son, Stephen Mercado, a college student, who has his own apartment in Knoxville.

"My son took responsibility and paid over $800 to stop the foreclosure. That's the three months of back pay, plus the late fees that this man owes," she said.

Mercado used money from his savings.

"From my wages, working wages," he told 6 On Your Side.

"I live day by day, I live month to month. And my son had to leave where he was living to come and help me," Canizares said. "I have close to $1,000 for the month of October that I paid, late charges."

Canizares said she essentially pulled her landlord out of debt.

What has made her ordeal even more stressful is that she has painful lupus and struggles with the effects daily.

Earlier in the month, landlord Jeff Gencay wouldn't return calls for comment from 6 On Your Side.

But last week, Gencay sent a letter to Canizares saying, "My financial circumstances were much stressed through the summer."

"The house has been a struggle for me," he continued. "I sincerely appreciate your payments and hope you will decide to remain as a tenant."

"We paid his bill when he was not able to. We have paid the house for him," Canizares said.

Gencay finally called 6 On Your Side. Although he didn't want to speak on camera, the landlord said he and Canizares have worked out a plan where he's going to offset her rent and write up a list of things that need to be repaired in the home, in the hopes that she will stay.

For Canizares, her family is her biggest priority.

"I need a safe house. I don't want one, I need one. I have a profoundly handicapped son. I need one," she said.

6 On Your Side contacted KCDC and the Helen Ross McNabb center about possible housing for Canizares and her son. Neither organization has a home available presently that would fit their needs.

Canizares said she will stay where she is, at least for a while.

If you have a consumer issue, call the 6 On Your Side Hotline at 865-633-5974 or email

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