Louisville Magazine

JUL 2018

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 7.18 71 written into Kentucky law. Renters must give a landlord written notice (not just verbal) about health or safety hazards. e landlord then has 14 days to fix the problem. If they don't, a renter can pay to get it remedied, save the receipts and deduct the repair costs from rent. Judge McLaughlin says she cannot recall "one tenant" who has known to follow this procedure correctly. (A tenant can stop paying rent if water, electricity, gas or heat are not functioning through no fault of their own and the landlord refuses to address the matter.) Some landlords ignore repair requests, instead relying on desperate tenants and cheap rent to keep units occupied. If a tenant stops paying rent due to bleak conditions, an eviction is filed. Another low-income renter can fill the vacancy. Slumlords, some might say. In eviction court, you can mention the name Shirley Haycraft to anybody — judges, clerks, deputies who set out tenants. ey all know her. Until recently, the 75-year-old, who owned about 50 properties, was filing eviction paperwork once or twice a week. In May, the Jefferson County Attorney's office finalized an agreement with Haycraft designed to get her "out of the business of being a landlord." She pleaded guilty to three charges, including one of wanton endangerment stemming from conditions at her proper- ties — live electrical wires coming out of the ground, no operating fire alarms, leaky roofs, pest infestations, ignoring an "order to vacate" notice. As part of her two-year probation, Haycraft cannot purchase any new property and must maintain her vacant properties and fix up those in disrepair. She was fined about $2 million — a figure the county attorney's office called a "conserva- tive estimate" when you add up all the daily fines owed on multiple code violations. She doesn't have to pay it if she improves her properties and avoids further violations. And $50,000 will be deducted from the $2 million for every property she sells. Regarding her sentence, Haycraft says, "I don't know if you could call it fair." She's adamant that many of the violations she's been cited for are due to new, hyper-vigilant inspectors motivated by collecting fines. Haycraft believes she has always been a good landlord. "I've been one for 30 years. I must have been (good) or I wouldn't have been one for 30 years," she says, adding that the sentence isn't weighing on her. She says she had planned on selling all her properties any- way and moving to Florida. In eviction court, when word spread of Haycraft's sentencing, eyes popped. And yet Haycraft's lasting legacy in eviction court may date to 2014. She had lost an eviction case. Judge Williams dismissed it, stamping the paper with a black DISMISSED stamp that measured about an inch. Haycraft got a copy of the judgment and allegedly tore out the piece that read DISMISSED. at evic- tion notice then got posted to her tenant's door. e renter alerted the courts in confu- sion, thinking her case had been dismissed. Williams found out, sentencing Haycraft to 60 days home incarceration, along with a $500 fine. (Haycraft says this incident never happened, and she was put on home incarcer- ation due to a disagreement with a tenant during court.) Williams wanted to ensure nobody would ever fid- dle around with eviction judgments again. "I decided I wanted a big red obnoxious stamp," Williams says. e first replacement was close to three inches and red. "Big- ger," Williams said. A red DISMISSED stamp, slightly smaller than a chalkboard eraser, debuted in eviction court. It's late February, and from the office he rents at the Louisville Central Community Center in Russell, Fleming calls a landlord who has tepidly agreed to rent to him with some conditions, given his rental history. Over his shoulder, a poster of Muhammad Ali standing victorious over Sonny Liston is propped against a window. Photos of his eight- and two-year-old sons smile above his desk. Pictures of kids involved in Sowing Seeds with Faith line a bookshelf. Fleming dials. e cell phone crackles as the landlord picks up. Fleming: "I was calling because my sister was definitely willing to cosign. But she had a few questions before she committed. Would I have to pay for water as well? Landlord: "Yes, the utilities are yours." Fleming: "So my question is: Could my payment be $750, not $850?" Landlord: "Ummm, no. You need to take a hard look at your income and make sure it's something you can handle without being house poor and overstressing." In Louisville, it's estimated that 30 to 40 percent of renters are "rent-burdened," meaning more than 30 percent of their income is spent on housing. About 19 percent are considered severely rent- burdened: spending more than 50 percent of their income on rent. Many neighborhoods in west and southwest Louisville have renters with the highest cost-burden — 35 percent or greater. Louisville, like many American cities, is in great need of more affordable housing. (It's estimated that 48 percent of U.S. renters are cost-burdened.) Christie McCravy, executive director of the Louisville Affordable Housing Trust Fund, says the city needs 60,000 units of affordable housing to meet demand. In the last eight years, more renters have flooded the market. Landlords have increased rent. A 2017 Metropolitan Housing Coalition report indicated that 50,000 households in Louisville make less than $20,000 annually. ose folks can handle $500 rent or less. Only 26,610 units at that price range exist, half of what's needed. In the Louisville region, "fair-market rent" for a two-bedroom is about $820. A renter would have to earn at least $15.90 per hour full time to cover that without being cost-burdened. Louisville's minimum wage is $7.25. e Kentucky Supreme Court struck down the city's effort to boost the minimum wage. Warehouse jobs, like those at Amazon, may start at $10 or $12 an hour. "We have a lot of households that need $300 or $400 rents," McCravy says. "And they don't exist." Low-income households trying to find relief through the Section 8 housing-voucher program must contend with a wait list that now totals nearly 13,300. On the phone, Fleming asks, "Do you have any other $750 properties?" "I have one coming up in Crescent Hill," the landlord says. "But it's a little shotgun house, and it's too small for two kids. at's all I got going on right now. Sorry about that." Fleming releases a slight sigh. "OK," he says. Fleming has always considered himself high-achieving, determined. When Fleming was in the fifth grade, his older brother, Donelle, went to prison. Da'Marrion found out about his brother's crime on "current events" day in school. A classmate shared Louisville's "fair- market rent" for a two-bedroom is about $820. A renter would have to earn at least $15.90 per hour to cover that without being cost-burdened. Louisville's minimum wage is $7.25.

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