Fight for Tenant's Rights

Indianapolis, IN

Fight for Tenant's Rights
Author Portrait


Throughout this story, you will be introduced to Indiana’s generations of landlords who have taken advantage, and in my opinion, are trying to find loopholes through updated laws and policies. These are my experiences, my words and my struggles.

I want to thank everyone who supported and continue to support more evolvement and true dedication to being a loving neighbor. Jehovah has gotten me this far, I trust in him for more changes to happen, and they will.

1 - Roommates

At one point in time, I really thought I had the smarts about it all. Shocking, huh? Fresh, young adult on the streets, ready to start the dreams I had thought about since I was a kid- except, adulthood was a very, very different time from when I was a kid.

I was born in 1991, pretty solid era, the rise of technology and the marketplace for new gadgets to play with. I grew up loving barbie dolls, punk music, skateboarding and design. I’ve always wrote, but it wasn’t my dream. My dream was to own my house, work with wildlife and drive a 70′s bug. Now, not all of that became my own, but when I started working towards it, I really didn’t pay attention to all those “close detail” readings.

My first apartment was with a friend, everything in her name, I wasn’t even working a solid employment- I was commission paid, earning for women’s cleansers and makeup. I was NEW, but I was stubborn. Fun fact, though, roommates aren’t the greatest at swapping information, either. If someone had run through adulthood with me, that would’ve helped me a lot, but that didn’t happen. I learned with alcohol shots at seven am and zero responsibility to anything without my name on it.

My first signed apartment, now that was a different story. I took care of budgeting money out, but I was getting financial assistance. I was available for financial assistance due to finally working an hourly income- so I had a stable income to count. I also had recently gotten married, and we had moved into this apartment with a friend. You got it, the big strike two. Begging to my next point-

And it’s very simple, avoid roommates at all cost. It’s not that rooming for the extra income is a bad thing, but if you’re working for yourself, for your needs only, chances are your budget is pretty low and you have that extra wiggle room Even as a married couple, my husband and I didn’t have any children or financial debts in schooling or property ownership, nothing! We had free reign, except we had a roommate. What happens when someone is laid off or terminated? An income is lost. That partial income may not be a big deal, but, what happens when two out of three is lost? It becomes chaotic.

We still haven’t spoke to that friend due to everything that happened when all of this went down. We lost our electricity, our storage for frozen/refrigerated items, we had no air conditioning and it was the beginning of a drought. In this time, we were dogged on. A LOT. Judgment, irrational guidance and plain abuse and bullying. I’m not sure where it was stated that your life is to be together by age 23, but I assure you, coming back from that fall took time. We needed jobs saying yes to new kids of the workforce, and you got it- money. I was working until we found out we were having our baby girl, then I had to resign for bedrest, as I was high risk. In the matter of a year, we had lost our first real home, been evicted and lost our income. All three sides of it.

When an eviction happens, it’s put on your record, so any place that does any kind of credit check- will find this eviction. Many places do not accept evictions under 3-5 years, this brings a lot of distress to families when they are not able to find living situations for their families. I’ve heard and seen so many people give out shelter names, but this is happening so frequently and so often, these shelters are at max capacity and aren’t allowing anymore people in. I’ve learned quite a bit about shelters, seeing I did have to stay in one for nearly half a year, but it’s not an easy jump or environment to handle. We’ll talk about that later.

We need to ensure there is available housing to families who have been victims of domestic abuse and are fleeing for safety, for families in lure of divorce or bad endings to relationships, that are fighting evictions and have school-age children in need. We need to take into account we are all citizens, we all bleed red, and we all deserve the same treatment. We need to help our families find employment when there is a lay off instead of handing them an eviction notice. We need to try harder, we need to do better.

And that’s why I’m doing this.

2 - Bats, Mice and More

Pests are inevitable, we need to understand and respectfully adhere to that- being both a manager and tenant. Especially in close quarters, arego; apartments, mobile homes, closely built in communities as a whole.

We moved to the state line once we were expecting our son in 2014, we needed safer environments and better fitting modifications as I was healing and we began to be the family of four. I stayed home and continued commission income at this point in time, my husband was working full-time with mandatory over-time and optional weekend over-time. Financially, we were fine, even with a new baby.

Rent was 600, all electric, move-in ready, cheap deposit, entire loft of building was ours, there was a miniature room that was perfect for a nursery- I was excited! We moved with no furniture, so we began with two lawn chairs and a tv/vcr combo on top of a dresser, but we had a home, in a new start.

Night two was the beginning of the hellstorm we endured there. Lying next to my husband on the blow up mattress, I saw ears pop up over the curtain rod. “Babe, what is that? Is that a mouse?”, he sat up and told me to grab my daughter. Keep in mind, I am 6 months pregnant, with a one year old, in a place with basically nothing. I locked my daughter and I in the bathroom, of which a mouse ran over my foot. This continued three more nights in a row, we eventually trapped a bat in this corner of the wall with duct taping the crack of the borders meeting.

Each phone call and text message we made to the landlords, was a failure. They came to investigate for bats in the daytime (nocturnal animals), they sprayed for the roaches with a can of Raid and didn’t bother asking us to clean our cabinets out before doing so- so I’m pregnant, inhaling fumes from Raid, cleaning it off my dishes and tossing the food that was contaminated. They mixed pest control chemicals in a large, white canister and sprayed this mixture over all of our furniture, walls and floors. Later, once my son was a few weeks old and I had more sleep under my belt, while putting him down, I saw our next problem- a bed bug crawled across his pillow as I turned his light on. Horrified, I made another call and further more, contacted the Health Department and made my first report. I was informed I would need to document all of our problems and speak with an attorney.

With my daughter showing signs of distress while breathing and having a new addition, we decided to move back to the city after 6 months of attempting to have things fixed and ultimately, wasting our time and money. It was going to take months and months of court and money we didn’t have to spend, so we had to abandon all we had accumulated and the life we had created there. We moved back in with my mom until a month later, we found something affordable and accumulated some income to move on.

3 - Shelters and Statistics

Upon move back to the city, we stayed with my mom for a couple months, rejoined our previous employments and saved up.

I came across a listing online for a mobile home park not too far from my mom’s, a small start to build our furniture and life back to complete, and it was getting new carpet- plus, we got to paint before move in. AWESOME! We went in, painted it all to match, touched up some minor bumps and started to move things in.

Everything was great, it was all one big bill and we were able to fluctuate payments if needed. These landlords were understanding, exceptional, and helped us in times without drowning themselves.

Our stay there was interrupted abruptly due to an accident in the home. I have epilepsy, and while out one night with the family, I had a seizure and had to have brain surgery. This led to the loss of my job and the beginning of my husband having to take on two roles while I healed. We stayed with my mom for a few weeks, but eventually, we moved to a shelter and finally seeked some help.

This needs to be addressed as solely factual, and not of bias opinion or influence, those who seek help are in need of it. Do not be ashamed to ask for help! I learned so much and go to meet so many people that had hardships with landlords as well. In just a few topics of discrimination, job loss and no assistance available, bad landlords in general- at least 15% of women were there due to landlords, others, leaving bad relationships and weren’t worked with in the same community or past record due to bad relationship had blocked them in to being at the shelter for food and housing.

That’s alarming to me, still, and it’s been years since i’ve seen in the inside of the shelter or had a conversation with anyone there. As grateful as I was to have a place, we also were some of direct discrimination based on our race by the workers, and witnessed several incidents to other women- so this doesn’t just stop at landlords.

We need to come together as a community and as loving neighbors to sponsor and help one another come to the top. We are all living in the same world, with similar struggles and daily routine. We can do this. We just have to care more about people.

Once our time was up at the shelter, we all found a place to rebuild, once more.

4 - Impossumble

We picked up in the westside of Indianapolis, close to downtown and Speedway. A small mobile home park, a friend who upgraded and sold us the original and let us make payments- a place we could renovate and resell for bigger once we had caught up. That was our goal, anyway.

We were there a little over two years. I was managing a small dine-in section of local drive in, running my commission sales, as well as doing dreadlocks. My husband was working at the Indianapolis Airport, we had even better income than before. We made small renovations as needed, but saved as much as possible while paying our friend off for full ownership.

Problems started mid summer of 2016 when the owner of the mobile home park picked up rent from us, gave us a receipt (a new thing of which he started after a few comments of us not paying rent and us providing the money order stubs of which we paid with) and returned home. His wife came over consecutively over a weeks time requesting we pay rent, she was going to evict us, we were lying, we didn’t pay, even though each time we presented a receipt for her with his signature. Come to find out, our rent was going towards his “fun fund” and wasn’t paying towards our lot rent. At this same time, we were on hault for getting the title to sign over into our name to sell to someone else and be able to move.

During this, the trailer started literally falling apart. A hole had appeared underneath the bathtub, giving entrance to many animals, including possums. I was putting laundry away and getting an outfit ready for my son when I brushed past a tail. A TAIL. This was my final straw for needing to leave and started looking back into apartments.

5 - No Help

Thankfully, we were approved for a decently sized apartment and a friend was willing to take over payments and get the title. We moved into our new apartment, which completely had me in awe. It was original woodwork, a rounding walkway and sizeable rooms. We signed the lease and awaited a week’s worth of packing and getting ready, I put all of my savings and three weeks of tips and check into the deposit, to be laid off the following week, the day of move in.

The first couple months, I was mainly home doing my commission and self-employment, on top of added babysitting, so I was able to pay attention to things going bump and actual problems.

- The first problems were the locks and handles, then our neighbor asked if we had a leak due to water leaking into her apartment, then a maintenance man claimed we had a leaking dishwasher which led to him tearing the entire underpart of the dishwasher out, and it staying that way until we moved.

- We woke up one night with the entire apartment filled with smoke, due to the filter not being changed for at LEAST two years prior to move in.

- Our handle to the patio door completely came off, and then, the gun shots and violence started happening outside our windows.

Now, don’t get me wrong, things happen, but first off- an apartment should be fully inspected prior to move a family in. No sparking outlets, working appliances and lights, a clean filter in the air system and assurance that has been checked is up to date. Security should be a given, including alarms of whatever sort.

There were no maintenance men available to fix these problems, we had no accommodations to a new apartment or being fixed in any timely manner. The only time it began to become important, was when we finally withheld rent to be able to move. The offer was to voluntarily leave, turn in the keys and no eviction would be filed.

The ratings and reviews of this apartment, the information listed, was the complete opposite. The indoor laundry unit was constantly filthy, overflowing and of course, were never able to get fixed in a timely manner. The management was poor and the communication was non-existent unless it was about money. We moved 4 short months later due to hitting a brick wall, again.

Que the apartment that fueled my fire.

6 - Roach Motel

This was a two year journey, a starting fight in the Winter of 2018, and ultimately leading us to where we are now. However, let’s start back at move in.

We had to leave where we currently were, point blank. It was an emergency to go, we needed at least two bedrooms, and we had a budget of 1200$. The rent was cheap, but it was a worse area. I was prepared for that, I was not prepared for the treatment from the managements we handled.

The first problems were the roaches. Oh my goodness, the roaches. You could not have a loaf of bread on the counter, bags of rice or sides for meals, gone. Up until our air conditioning went out in Summer heat rise of 2019, they stayed out to the freezer and fridge. Second major problem, maintenance men would walk in unannounced, late hours of the night. Completely inappropriate! We had sparking wires inside of our closet that I had put an order in after our move in, which only had that we needed pest control and a door cover for our front door, which was three inches from the floor, allowing complete airflow of the outside stairwell, in winter. We didn’t receive the door cover until Summer of 2019, and then they screwed it in, didn’t measure to count the carpet height, and ended up ripping up the carpet- and attempting to fine us for the damages.

They also had to replace our dishwasher, twice, as it clogged up and sat with black mold. The first dishwasher sat in our apartment, with black mold, for 6 months until I finally called, lied and claimed it flooded my kitchen with black mold, and demanded it be removed when the maintenance man approached. I called several times during that six month period, dealt with being laughed at, given false information, prices, promises, and ultimately they started screening my calls and not answering. I contacted the health department at this point, putting in my issues and filming for evidence. I contacted news stations in desperation for help as my daughter, who years previous was diagnosed with asthma, started to show signs of inflammation. We ended up in the ER a few times, as she struggled to breathe, but during this time, we were also getting notified we had late fees that had no explanation and we were not given any paperwork to follow up. At the end of the month, we were giving them 1200$ in rent due to these “late fees”. A long list shortened;

- There was a fire that was not responded to, I called and reported and watched the fire below my patio go out as we waited for help.

- The light fixture in hallway, above the stairwell, went out and was never repaired.

- There was a sparking outlet shutting off the opposite side of the apartment if used, but was also the main outlet to be able to vacuum or do any other chore requiring electricity- it was never fixed.

- The ceiling was leaking due to the air conditioner being inactive, as well as a hole and leaking during storms. They couldn’t fix the air conditioner due to it being out of date and they no longer carried the parts.

- It took 4 men to put a thermostat on the wall.

- They never, not once, came to clean the mold spreading throughout the apartment.

In Summer of 2019, after still fighting to have the move in checklist finished, we received a second dishwasher that again and had clogged and began molding. They told me to dump bleach in it. This is also when our water heater decided to start leaking and due to none of the four numbers to the office working and having no access to an ER maintenance man, we had to youtube how to unplug the heater. The maintenance vacuumed the molding water out in our kitchen, without asking us to leave or move out of the room, dumped the water outside our patio, tossed our bad toilet off our patio (after we complained for a week to have it removed), broke the countertop when replacing heater and dishwasher and attempted to charge us for it.

I was contacted in early Fall from a reporter I had been sharing my struggles with about setting up an interview to expose my problems and get help, I knew many families dealing with the exact things I was, my neighbors were my family and their kids were my kids- we deserved better, so I reached out and asked to do this. Someone needed to do something. She came and filmed my apartment, all of the problems, some unlisted here even. I wanted this to be the key, I hoped for it to be.

When court came to fight the eviction and fight the balance due, I was ready, except when we moved, we had to move diligently and slowly, making sure we didn’t track any of our pests with us. Upon return after work, due to an emptying apartment, the pests came out of hiding. All of my photos, scrapbooking, sister’s memorables, kids toys, games, cleaning products, everything- covered in roaches and black mold. We had to leave almost everything we owned.

In the first court date, we settled the damage hearing and I kept in contact with the reporter, as well as the health department official, keeping them updated as the case went on.

7 - Not A Penny

Once the second court date came, I took off an hour early from work and brought my file of evidence of what we had been through. I was not ready for the way it went, but I made my point.

I stepped up to the podium, giving my statement, explaining my loss and everything we had dealt with, and the question was why I quit paying rent. Here’s where I got pretty frustrated, why should I have to inhabit a place that is causing my daughter so much chaos in being able to breathe, her doctor giving statements of needing air conditioning, of being affected by black mold, and I was being questioned as to why I didn’t pay rent. I was furious!

I was livid to the point of tears, and to the point of exhaustion. I had started this to move forward, to help not just my family, but every family that had become a part of mine and included mine in theirs, those families. We were treated as nuisance blockages, we weren’t important, our health wasn’t important, our safety wasn’t important- but the money was. I quit paying rent to leave and give my daughter a chance to have a normal childhood and not be hooked up to an oxygen machine three fourths of her day- I left because I had to.

The judge offered to overlook my evidence and give a verdict at a later point once questioning the apartment’s ‘witness’ as to if my apartment was inhabitable, “It was pretty bad, your honor” - of which was the turning point, or so I thought. The judge immediately made it clear that continuously doing this to tenants was wrong, then bringing them through the court and taking money. The lawyer representing the apartments had the audacity to say, “She had to option to move”, as to which the judge responded, “Opportunity and Option are very different things, of which I think you know that.”

Later that week I opened a letter from the courthouse, my defense was denied, I now owed these apartments 3200$. I broke at this point, I had been fighting so hard, but this is where my shouts had to be put to silence for a second.

8 - Renter's Rights

Yesterday, I received a call about interviewing for another channel, about the recent renter’s rights document that had to be presented at the time of move in or lease renewal. I was delighted to read everything that was being presented, I was absolutely over the moon they had followed up with my opinion on the changes, but these aren’t he final changes we need to make.

We need to have protection for those already affected before this law came into place. We need to have some bit of retribution for those still affected and unable to have a solid housing due to an eviction or credit problem because of a former landlord. For those leaving domestic situations, or dealing with a loss, we need to have some leniency.

We need to consider our future generations, what we’re bringing them into, what we’re teaching them when signing into their first home of their own. It’s completely unfair to throw them into a hurricane of things that weren’t established or something thrown in later on. If my children want to start their family at the age of 26, they should feel comfortable doing so with a stable bill cycle and the ability to budget.

This isn’t just renter’s rights, this is education for young adults starting out. We need rights, but we also need educated on beginning a life of our own. You can teach us the lessons that we need to learn skills, but we needed to learn how to budget, how to balance a checkbook, how to file taxes, how to document rights and wrongs, how to read a lease and understand the commitment and responsibilities.

I think we can educate employees, teachers, and parents to help guide our generations, we can add this to schools, we can improve the future for our children and their families and their contribution as citizens.

We also need to look at those past cases, solve some of them, take some things of credit reports and help a family get back on their feet. We can do it, I don’t understand why we’re not and why we haven’t.

We need to take a look at the abandoned apartments we have, again at the homeless population, and wonder why we’re all struggling to make ends meet with all of these job possibilities that go hand in hand with being a loving neighbor and true American.

I’m not going to step down. These changes can happen, we just need some noise for it to happen.

fact or fiction
Heather Fields
Heather Fields
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