Family battling landlord in rat-infested rental home dispute

Investigations

BLAINE, Tenn. (WATE) — Rats and unsafe living conditions put a Blaine family in jeopardy and now they’re battling their landlord who is trying to evict them.

Rodents in the house aren’t the only problem, as there are plumbing and safety issues, too. When the couple moved to East Tennessee last summer, they were told the house was ready for move-in.

As Trista Vidales comforts her newborn baby girl, Kinsley, she worries about the health of her infant and her other two kids.

That’s because there are rats in the basement of her rental home. Trista and her husband have put poison down and removed several dead rats daily.  

Last July on Craigslist, Trista and her husband found this 68-year-old, 1 bath, 3 bedrooms, 1500 square foot basement home in Blaine, Tenn. It rented for $950 a month.

But as John Kehn chased a live rat running across the basement floor, little did he know last summer that the place was infested.  

“Rats. There are dead rats everywhere. Here is one right here. You can come over here, this is plastic, up there. You can see the feces. All the rat poop This would have fallen down if I had not put plastic here,” John Kehn said as he pointed.

“They’re living in our walls, in our basement. They’re tearing the insulation out of my walls,” Trista Vidales said.

That’s not all, the kitchen sink has leaked since the day they moved in.

“I’ve tried to fix it multiple times, the water when she runs it, it runs right into our basement on my electrical panel,” John Kehn said. “This is the drainage for my house It’s a wide-open hole  it doesn’t go into nothing, it just goes into the ground.”

Outside, the basement door doesn’t lock, a safety issue that concerns John. He’s attached a wire to keep it from opening fully.

Shortly after arriving last August, the couple asked their landlord and property manager to make repairs. It didn’t happen. As a result, John, who’s a carpenter, said they skipped September’s rent.

“So, I don’t feel I should have to pay you.  I want some stuff fixed. The guy rest assured me if I paid money he would fix these things,” John Kehn said.

In early October, when Trista lost her job as a medical technician because of COVID-19, she applied and received Federal Emergency Rental Assistance from a local housing agency.

“I applied for Clinch Powell  And they paid 3800 dollars which was September, October, November, and December’s rent,” she said, adding it was paid directly to their landlord, “Dwight Collins.”

John showed us a handwritten eviction notice signed by Collins sent days after that final payment in December from Clinch Powell had been made to Collins.  

“As of January 8th, you owe Dwight Collins the amount of a thousand dollars, plus late fees,” John read from the letter, with signatures: “Landlord Dwight Collins and Property Manager Tina Root. If this is not paid on January 15th, the eviction court date will be on February 4th.”

But the Tennessee Supreme Court has suspended all in-person courts dates across the state until March 15 because of the pandemic.

It was three years ago, Dwight Collins here on the left appeared in Grainger County Sessions court. Christina Yarboro had filed a vandalism charge against Collins, then her landlord. The power to Mrs. Yarboro’s mobile home had been pulled at the recommendation of the state Fire Marshak and Collins had been ordered by the state to make repairs because of multiple “electrical violations.”

Collins took no corrective action. So, Mrs. Yarboro stopped paying her rent. Collins sent her an eviction notice and then cut an electrical cord Mrs. Yarboro had hooked up to a generator so she could have heat to her home. In court, Collins agreed to a deal in February of 2018. The vandalism charge against him was dropped. In exchange, he paid a fine and court costs.

We talked with Dwight Collins about the rental house in Blaine. He didn’t want to appear on camera.

<Dare: So you have not seen the home since you rented it back in August?

I personally have not been in the home that is correct,” Collins said on the phone.

The Tennessee Landlord-Tenant Act says landlords must comply with codes that affect health and safety and must make all needed repairs to keep the property habitable.

“I guess they need to find a place to go to,” Collins said on the phone, referring to John Kehn and his wife.

Getting out of the house is what they plan to do: “I want to move. That’s what I want, want to get my kids out of here,” Trista said.

Collins insists he has done nothing wrong. He said he was in the right to evict people, they don’t pay their rent.

Now, the couple has not left the house yet. They said with three kids, her unemployed and him working part-time due to the ongoing pandemic, they don’t have enough money to make another down payment on a different rental home. They’re looking for a place and hope to find a new home soon.

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