Proposed bill could give renters in Shelby County easier access to their landlords

SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — Bad landlords are a topic FOX13 covers all the time, with hallmarks featuring moldy apartments, caved-in ceilings and even raccoons.

Now, a local legislator aims to give people easier access to the person they are renting from by creating a registry of landlords in Shelby County. Under the proposed legislation, landlords would be required to share their contact information with the county government in an effort to make the information available to tenants.

“It would be a game changer, but it’s not radical,” Rep. Dwayne Thompson, the bill’s sponsor, said.

He said the issue of unreachable landlords first came to his attention when he was helping constituents gather enough signatures to install speed bumps on their streets and could not contact the owners of some rental homes.

“They had tried to contact the rental company and it was just impossible,” Thompson said. “It was some out of town corporation that was just impossible to find.”

He said for tenants who pay every month, those types of situations could mean disaster.

“Let’s say, for instance, a plumbing problem. They don’t know who to contact,” he said. “If they can not get ahold of their landlord, they are just going to have to suffer through it until some other means can be worked out.”

Thompson said other solutions can include renters paying for repairs themselves or hiring a lawyer to get ahold of their landlord.

“This is simply a means to address it other than having to go through a long legal battle,” he said.

For Shelby County, where the Census reports nearly one in five people live in poverty, avoiding the costs associated with litigation could make a huge difference. Thompson expects bipartisan support for the bill.

“It’s not a liberal or conservative bill, it’s simply giving a means for renters to get the services they agreed to on the front end and have been paying for every month,” he said.

Thompson said he will introduce the bill in the next legislative session, which begins Jan. 10.

A landlord registry law is already in effect at the state level, but it is specifically aimed at counties with a population of more than 500,000 people and a metropolitan form of government, meaning it only applies to Davidson County.

Thompson’s bill would remove the language about the form of government so the law would apply to Shelby County as well.