HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - A woman in Huntsville says she's been living a nightmare as she deals with a huge roof leak. She's a fed-up tenant who is fighting back in the midst of her ordeal and getting legal help.
She is getting results after contacting the WAFF 48 news team.
Officials say her case is an example of what renters should do if they're having trouble getting issues addressed.
Belinda Hill has a big mess on her hands that gets worse when it rains.
It's been 3.5 weeks she reported a leak in the roof of her rental home on Magnolia Drive, situated not far off Pulaski Pike and Holmes Avenue in Huntsville, and she says the problem has not been properly addressed by her property managers.
"This is from yesterday morning's rain and it's still dripping. The mold is growing down the walls, mold on the windowsills," she said. "This is mold that's taken over. The roof is getting ready to fall."
She's collecting water in buckets and but there's so much of it, the rug is soaked and it's caused structural damage. She says the mold is making her and her dog sick.
"This is inexcusable. I've never missed a rent payment. I'm a great tenant," Hill stated. "I moved here in November, no friends or family as a job transfer, and now this is how I have to live. This is very unfair. When you rent a home, you have rights and you need to know the law so if this ever happens, you have no problems getting the help that's deserved."
She's been working with Legal Services Alabama regarding her situation.
With the property where she's living, there's someone who owns the home and a property management company, who Belinda has been dealing with.
She made the property managers aware of what appeared initially to be a small roof leak on Memorial Day weekend.
But because it wasn't repaired, it got much worse very fast and water has been pouring into the back bedroom, causing extensive water damage.
"As of today, the room is still not fixed. They're not repairing it. They're not communicating with me. This is a horrific way to live," Hill said.
According to Legal Services Alabama, the property manager's son was sent to make repairs, but he is not a licensed contractor and does not have roofing experience. He placed a thin vinyl material on the roof which was ineffective.
"It was thinner than a shower curtain. The next day, it poured and all of my things were ruined," Hill said. "This was supposed to be treated as an emergency and they knew that. But it's never been treated as an emergency."
Under Alabama tenant law, if a landlord refuses to make necessary repairs to provide a habitable dwelling, renters can send a 14 day notice to break their lease (Section 35-9A-401).
Holly Ray, managing attorney for Legal Services Alabama, says the home Belinda Hill is renting was previously cited by Huntsville community development (code enforcement) for issues.
"It's not livable. There are electrical hazards because of the water coming in near HVAC," Ray explained. "She did her part of the bargain and the landlord didn't."
Letters were sent to owners, property managers and their attorney. Hill also turned to a personal injury attorney because some issues are outside of Legal Aid Alabama's scope.
Ray says Legal Services Alabama sees these kinds of things happen all the time to tenants, but added that Belinda Hill had all of the proper documentation and did everything she should have.
"Everything we tell tenants to do, everything we hope tenants have done when they walk in our office, she's done. She's documented this, she's sent letters, she has pictures, she has copies of text messages that she sent her property manager," Ray stated.
"This was really quick fix. This was something that should have been fixed with a $30 tarp and 30 minutes of effort and we wouldn't be talking about pervasive mold damage and massive property damage, but someone decided to cut corners," she added.
It's been an ordeal Belinda Hill doesn't want other renters to have to deal with.
"I want to make sure that my story is heard and that no one ever has to go through something like this. Please know who you're renting from. Please do your research. There are people out there who will help you," she said.
Legal Services Alabama provided some additional advice for renters dealing with issues.
"If your landlord has missed making a major repair to your property to the point that it's inhabitable, if you have a gaping hole in your roof like Ms. Hill, if you're lacking heating in the winter, you need to document your contacts with the landlord. Make contact as soon as possible. The quickest repair is often the cheapest and the fastest," Ray said.
Make sure that it's someone who is licensed, bonded and insured and reputable.
"You have the right the ask that the person who comes to your property has those credentials. Make sure you stay on them about those dates," Ray added. "Stay vocal and document every call, letter and text."
Huntsville Property Managers, who handle the property, issued a statement on Friday saying they are deeply concerned about the issues and they've agreed to release Belinda Hill from her remaining lease term.
They also agreed to refund her June rent, full security deposit and pet fee.
They added that they are going to further investigate the matter and take all appropriate steps.
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