HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - A local group is slapped with a lawsuit after tenants receive questionable evictions.
And it goes deeper, these same tenants contacted WAFF to highlight the living conditions at their apartment complex in Huntsville and the group over it, promising to bring people in off the streets.
Imagine finding a 24-hour eviction notice on your apartment door with no explanation.
“There is no 24-hour eviction notice in the state of Alabama. If you are receiving one of those in a landlord tenant situation, it is illegal,” said Holly Ray, managing attorney at Legal Services Alabama.
Holly Ray is now representing two evicted tenants who are suing the management of Eden Springs Apartments on Knight Road in South West Huntsville. The defendants include Dean Richtsmeier, who owns the property, The Knighthood Foundation which is not registered in the state of Alabama, Deb Jeffery the on-site manager, and Good Cause Huntsville and Peacemakers Love Foundation, two non-profit organizations based in California. On its website, Good Cause Huntsville claims to focus on manifesting Self-Help Communities for those at-risk of homelessness.
“It’s really bizarre that they’ve kind of swooped into our community, bought up a street worth of affordable housing and proceeded to act like Alabama law doesn’t apply to them,” added Ray.
Some tenants told us they were not given leases, but program agreements to live here. Instead of paying rent, they pay “program fees” every month.
Program paperwork provided to WAFF indicates Good Cause Huntsville provides shelter, utilities, training, and education.
However, we sat down with some tenants who claim Good Cause doesn’t provide any of that and barely provides shelter.
“I’ve complained to them, complained to them, complained to them, and then I eventually got to the point where I just told them look, you charge me, $550, $700 a month to stay in an apartment that ain’t even suit to live in,” said evicted tenant Allen Rounds.
We couldn't get into Allen Rounds apartment at Eden Springs because he has already been evicted, not after 24-hours but 7 days and his locks were changed which still doesn't comply with landlord-tenant law. He's represented in the lawsuit. He admitted to not paying his program fees after several ignored maintenance requests or shotty work to fix the problems.
"At first they put duct tape on my tub, duct tape. It's not a safe environment for anybody, I wouldn't recommend anybody to go over there," explained Rounds.
A second plaintiff in the lawsuit claims he was locked out of his apartment and denied access to his medication and when he tried to pay his fees, the property manager told him she wouldn't accept it.
Getting back to the Good Cause Program, both men told me outside of breakfast one day a week if any, they don't know what the Good Cause Program is.
"These people try to skirt under an exception to that law by having their tenants sign an agreement that makes it look like they are providing some sort of counseling services, essentially sort of treating their tenants as if they are in a half-way house," added Ray.
WAFF reached out to the property owner, Dean Richtsmeier, who is based in Idaho. He has not returned our calls.
However, his brother, Chris Ricthsmeier sent me a lengthy email explaining that "there has been some confusion whether from miscommunication, misunderstanding, forgetting, or misrepresentation as to occupants status as a participant in a voluntary transitional living program or a lease."
In addition, he says that “on average, occupants that have been removed for non payment of program fees have been behind between 2 and 3 months which is significantly more than what we are required to do.”
The founder of Good Cause in California, Malcolm Johnson, explained by phone that the program is about creating a safe and sober community and is not responsible for the evictions.
With the lawsuit filed, a emergency hearing is expected to be scheduled. We will update you on the outcome.