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Knowing your rights as a renter

Posted at 7:42 PM, May 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-13 09:33:41-04

TULSA, Okla. — Few will ever forget that wicked winter storm that slammed Oklahomans back in February, but it hit a 73-year-old Tulsan especially hard.

A cold hard reality was about to set in — one that would turn her life upside down.

"I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow," Jean Sanders said. "I don't know where I'll be. I have no money."

For several weeks after the storm, Sanders said she found herself sleeping in her rundown car some nights and at a friend's place other nights.

"I paid my rent every month for 23 years," she said. "I've never missed a payment."

For more than two decades, Sanders lived in the same house and rented from the same family. With help from a Section 8 program through the Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency, Sanders paid $200 a month. The OHFA paid another $400 each month to the homeowner, who now has other plans.

"She says she's going to sell the property, and she wants me out of here," Sander said.

She heard that news after the winter storm, which busted the water pipes in the house. But restoring water service would take time, maybe days, since plumbers were working around the clock fixing a record number of needed repairs.

The OHFA said in cases like that, the renter would need to find a temporary place to stay using their resources.

"If it's just an individual house, there's not an obligation for the owner to provide any housing or assistance like that," said Tim Shackelford with OHFA.

Sanders said it wasn't long when the plan to repair the pipes turned into more projects to get the house ready to sell.

"She's got some contractors going to come in and do some work, and I said with this pandemic, I just don't feel safe with people coming in and out of here," Sanders said. "She said it's her house, she'll do what she wants to do."

Although Sanders knows that's true, she said she still paid rent for the rest of February and all of March even though she water service was never restored and her belongings were still there.

"She doesn't want me to stay in the house," Sanders said. "It's her house, and I can't afford a hotel room."

Since the OHFA didn't know what was going on, 2 News found out the agency was still paying the homeowner, too. The agency chalks the situation up to a perfect winter storm — COVID, the cold, and confusion, But not a fraud.

"We haven't seen any red flags," Shackelford said. "They simply did not report it timely. It was just a lapse of judgment on both party's account."

Sanders said she was so confused, life was so uncertain, and she didn't know what to do or who to talk to. But now there's hope.

"It would feel good that I'd have a place to call home," Sanders said.

After 2 News told the housing agency about Sanders's situation, they quickly gave her a new voucher to pay for another place to call home. The agency also notified the property owner to return the rent they were paid when the house didn't have water and Sanders wasn't able to live there.

Here are what you need to know when it comes to reporting problems:

  • Report any problems to your landlord in writing
  • Send the dated, written notice in a way that you can prove the landlord received it, and keep a copy for your records
  • Have your landlord sign your copy confirming they received it, or send by fax and keep the fax confirmation
  • Or send it by certified mail, return receipt requested
  • Send another copy by regular mail if your landlord does not pick up the certified mail
  • In Section 8 cases, make sure you notify your caseworker of any problems as well

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