A criminal case against the landlord of three troubled apartment complexes in South Cobb was delayed again Thursday after the property owners invoked their right to a jury trial, heading off a hearing that had been scheduled for that morning.
The motion to transfer the case from magistrate court to state court frustrated the handful of tenants who showed up expecting to tell a judge about the rats, mold, leaks and other problems that plague Parkview Apartments, Kingsley Village and Hunters Grove on Riverside Parkway. The three complexes are owned by Trinity Parkview, LLC, an umbrella company for a group of Canadian investors. Cobb has filed 84 charges against one of the general partners, Kerrison Chin.
The case has already been continued twice before and Thursday’s action means it could be a year before before a trial.
Resident Stephanie Burris grew emotional talking about how her 16-year-old niece is afraid to sleep in her room because of the rats, which they try to keep out by stuffing towels under the door.
“What about us? Where does our help come from? Who’s going to look out for us?” she said. “We still have to live in this same apartment and pay these people rent that shouldn’t be able to collect anything from us. It’s not fair.”
Special prosecutor Joe Hudson apologized to the group, saying the legal process must now start over with arraignment.
“I’m so sorry about that but there’s nothing I can do about it,” Hudson said.
Carter Clayton, the attorney for the defendant, Chin, said he could not immediately provide comment.
In Georgia, tenants are not allowed to withhold rent over unaddressed maintenance issues. Some tenants of the three complexes say they are facing retaliatory evictions for calling code enforcement or speaking to the media.
State Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, is seeking to make such retaliation illegal with a bill that recently passed the Georgia house and is now in the senate.
Cooper described a “vicious cycle,” whereby unethical landlords rent subpar housing to vulnerable people and then evict them when they complain. The eviction makes it more difficult for those residents to find better housing.
“This bill just gives them a little bit of standing and hopefully sends a message to slum landlords that you’re not going to be able to get away with this,” Cooper said.
The representative said she was spurred to take action after hearing how many children are showing up in Georgia hospitals with breathing problems from moldy rentals. She also saw the impact evictions were having on the transiency rates in schools.
“It’s a public health problem and an education problem,” Cooper said. She expressed optimism about the bill’s chances of becoming law, saying it was “thoroughly vetted” and has won the support of realtors and many landlords.
Jennifer Yankulova, an attorney with Cobb Legal Aid, said she supported the bill, noting that Georgia is generally weak on tenant rights.
But even compared to other landlords, Yankulova said Trinity Parkview LLC stands out as “the worst we’ve ever seen.” In the meantime, the company continues to collect more than $40,000 a month in government rent subsidies.
Last month, tenants went public with their complaints and have attended several public meetings to air their greivances with the properties’ management and ownership. A representative of Trinity Parkview blamed a former partner, now deceased, for the state of the apartments.
“It’s startling how bad and how awful these conditions are that these tenants have to live in,” Yankulova said.
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