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Cobb tenants’ rights advocate could test new renter protection law

Monica DeLancy, founder of the We Thrive in Riverside Renters Association, is fighting her own eviction in Cobb Suerior Court. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Monica DeLancy, founder of the We Thrive in Riverside Renters Association, is fighting her own eviction in Cobb Suerior Court. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

A Cobb tenants' rights advocate fighting eviction in court could test new renter protections signed into law this year.

Monica DeLancy, founder of the We Thrive in Riverside Renters Association, appeared in Cobb Magistrate Court Friday, one week after a judge vacated an eviction order that ejected her and her two children from their Austell apartment.

DeLancy argues that her former landlord retaliated against her because of her activism, and is seeking $20,000 in damages.

The landlord says she is owed back-rent.

At Friday’s hearing, Judge Michael McLaughlin ordered DeLancy be allowed to return to her old apartment to retrieve personal belongings.

“There is some stuff in there, but it’s basically garbage,” said Alain Didier, the attorney for the landlord, Lake Crossing Apartments.

“It might not be garbage to her,” the judge rejoined.

McLaughlin stopped short of granting DeLancy possession of the apartment, however, since she had already been removed from the property when the eviction order was rescinded. He called the case “very complicated,” and referred it to Superior Court.

Neither Didier nor Lake Crossing Apartments management could be reached for comment.

DeLancy, who is now staying in a motel with her children, said her priority is finding appropriate housing for her 17-year-old son, who is disabled.

“He needs stability,” she said. “Anything else, we’re adults here, I’ve got to take care of.”

Her daughter, 19, intends to return to college next month.

Cristina Dumitrescu, an attorney with Legal Aid of Cobb County, is representing DeLancy.

“Essentially, our position is that the landlord just doesn’t want her there because she’s going to be a troublemaker and force them to follow the law,” she said.

The case could set precedent by clarifying the limits of renter protections under the new law, which says a landlord is barred from retaliating against a tenant who “established, attempted to establish, or participated in a tenant organization to address problems related to the habitability of the property.”

DeLancy did not file any health and safety complaints against her landlord. In fact, she said the management was generally very responsive to maintenance issues. But she was working with tenants across South Cobb, including some in her own apartment complex, on a broad range of issues affecting renters.

“Part of what we’re looking at as well is the spirit of the law, which the purpose of it is to prevent retaliation,” Dumitrescu said. “Her activism is far-reaching, so it’s way beyond her complex.”