‘It feels degrading’: Memphis woman demands landlords fix rat infestation problem

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Muriel Stallworth’s attic is marked by rat droppings, chewed-out insulation, and holes in the roof.

“The rats are destroying the property,” the 60-year-old told FOX13.

She takes great pride in the first floor of her Hickory Hill rental but is afraid to step foot on the second floor.

“I couldn’t stay here,” she said. “I was afraid to sleep at night. I couldn’t rest.”

She said she has spent hundreds of dollars of her own money on extermination, which included setting traps. Stallworth said her landlord tried to seal the home with foam, but there were still holes visible in the roof when FOX13 visited her rental.

“There’s just a real lack of a support system for renters,” said Alex Uhlmann with the Memphis Tenants Union. “It’s really disgusting how the folks that are the most vulnerable in our society are continually exploited.”

Uhlmann told FOX13 that Tennessee law favors the landlord, not the tenant. For example, other states allow tenants to withhold rent if there is an outstanding repair request.

“Without that, what’s your real incentive for having an issue fixed?” he asked.

Stallworth said she pays a monthly rent of $1,250 to AbiCart Properties. She told FOX13 that her management will allow her to move into another property, but she would rather have her current home fixed.

“They want me to move, but I’m not moving,” she said. “I believe I deserve a decent place to live. I pay my rent on time.”

Stallworth now worries that the company will retaliate.

“I don’t want you to get evicted,” said a spokesman for the company on the phone with her in mid-December as FOX13 was visiting the property. “You’ve been very nice to me. It’s just that the owner – "

“That’s why I asked what grounds are you going to evict me,” Stallworth said. “I pay my rent on time. What grounds do you have to evict me?”

Stallworth’s full story airs at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday on FOX13′s Housing Crisis in the Mid-South special.

FOX13 made multiple attempts to reach the company but has not heard back since 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday night.

Photojournalist Cynthia Perkins contributed to this report.