ATLANTA - If you're having trouble finding a rental you can afford, it's not your imagination. If you're having trouble paying rent, you're not alone. Metro Atlanta has one of the highest eviction rates in the country.
Just go to eviction court and you will see the faces of families who are being told one after another they have seven days to vacate and find and a new place to live. A recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta reveals, no, it's not because they are lazy or won't work. It's a problem that working families have little control over.
This is what losing your home looks like - your worldly belongings carried to the street in the rain for strangers to rummage through. A tenant lawyer tells us that in recent years Atlanta has lost 5,000 affordable rental units. Those complexes often were torn down replaced with high-end homes.
This is what losing your home feels like.
"I'm sorry I'm a little distraught right now," a weeping 24-year-old told a judge in Fulton Magistrate Court.
Lamarcia Dill, who works full time, is getting evicted. This single mom is confused.
"I'm not understanding, your Honor."
And, out-gunned by a landlord who brought a lawyer.
This is the scene day in and day out at Fulton's dispossessory court. Working families, largely women, getting evicted.
Elora Raymond with the Atlanta Federal Reserve headed a study that takes a deep dive into why Atlanta sits near the top nationally for evictions.
Twenty-two percent of rental households in Fulton County receive an eviction notice, or did receive an eviction notice in 2015," said Raymond, a Georgia Tech doctoral candidate.
That's one in five families who get a notice they're getting kicked out. Today in metro Atlanta the working poor are too often spending 50 percent of their paycheck on rent.
"The ability of our clients to survive always kind of impresses me," said Michael Lucas of the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation. He fights on behalf of tenants.
"Families are stretched so thin to be able to make that rent every month there's no margin of error. Getting less hours just one week in your job and you're facing eviction," he told us.
The problem has never been as clear as it is at Atlanta's Thomasville Heights Elementary School where it has an annual 40 percent turnover rate.
Let's put a face on this. Many of you are parents. Put yourself in their position. You have a second grader. She's making friends in a new school because she was at another school last year. But, after the holidays, things fall apart, and she has to switch to a new school because the family is getting evicted again. Can you imagine?
It's not just an Atlanta problem. It's metro-wide. More and more landlords are investors who live out of state. And, according to the study, they can be less likely to work with struggling renters.
Lamarcia Dill got an eviction notice because she made a mistake. She paid rent, but she stopped paying her landlord for water.
"I just stopped paying it because the water was coming out dirty. It was not a consistent flow. It worked some days. Some days it didn't. It would go in and out," she explained.
Attorney Michael Lucas has some free legal advice. Don't stop paying your rent. Call code enforcement. And document every discussion or agreement in texts or emails.
HOW TO HANDLE A LANDLORD DISPUTE
- - Communicate in writing your complaint and landlord agreement
- - Call code enforcement
- - Seek legal advice
- - Stay polite
"That's great documentation. It's easy to kind of show the back and forth of the conversation and so use that."
Because starting over, again and again, is no way live.
Still visibly upset after leaving the courtroom, Lamarcia Dill said, "I don't have a place to go. I don't even know where to start."
During her appeals process, she got a stay from the judge. But Ms. Dill says she is still unclear of her status.
LINKS TO LEGAL OPTIONS