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| 4 minutes read

Putting a Face Upon Atlanta's Slumlords!

About a mile west of downtown Atlanta, lies one of the most poverty stricken, crime riddled areas within Georgia.  Often referred to as the BLUFF, the area occupies the Vine City - English Avenue neighborhoods of Atlanta. The name does not reflect a physical or geographic attribute, but is instead an acronym for “Better Leave U F***ing Fool”!  A virtual oasis of poverty and crime, the BLUFF sits just north of several prestigious colleges (Morehouse, Spellman, and Clark Atlanta) and just west of the billion-dollar Mercedes Benz Stadium and trendy shops, restaurants and condominiums springing up in the area newly dubbed “West Midtown”. 

As the Atlanta skyline continues to sprout high end luxury condominiums and apartments with rents, generally exceeding $2,000 per month, safe and habitable affordable housing for the working poor is almost extinct.  The lack of affordable housing has made the BLUFF - as well as other blighted neighborhoods - incubators for unscrupulous “slum lords” who own and operate dilapidated, uninhabitable housing units used to prey upon those who are financially vulnerable.  Historically, very few outsiders venture into the BLUFF, and those who live there only do so because they have few other options.  As it happens, the BLUFF provides the “working poor”, elderly and disabled with that which is almost impossible to find in Atlanta – affordable housing accessible by public transportation. [See "Putting a Face Upon Atlanta's Working Poor Families", posted 5/31/23].

Ironically, the BLUFF has often attracted a surreal mix of visitors , who would otherwise never cross paths with those who live there.  Wealthy suburban kids visit the BLUFF to buy their drug of choice, which is often heroin.  Movie producers visit the BLUFF to document life there (i.e. “Snow On Da BLUFF” released 2012) or use it as an instant backdrop of urban blight (i.e “Sabotage” released 2014). Philanthropic foundations visit the BLUFF in the hope of igniting urban revitalization in the shadows of the neighboring $1.5 Billion Dollar Mercedes Benz Stadium.  Football and soccer fans from the "suburbs" stumble into the BLUFF seeking free or reasonably priced parking on abandoned lots at the borders of the BLUFF.  Finally, investors visit the BLUFF intending to profit from the gentrification that will someday naturally follow the future Atlanta Beltline, a 22-mile pedestrian/bike path that will eventually run through the area.  A subset of this latter group of investors, has produced a breed of “slumlords” who prey upon the “working poor”.

In the Fall of 2017, Cole Thaler of the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation or AVLF asked us (myself and my paralegal, Tamela McKemie) if we could help to shut down one such slumlord in the BLUFF.  The slumlord being targeted consisted of an off-shore LLC operating out of the Caribbean who retained a local realty agent to manage a small, dilapidated apartment complex containing 18 rental units.  The realtor was an individual who managed everything for the slumlord, ranging from leasing, collecting rents and of course evictions.  Neither the slumlord nor his realtor agent made  any efforts to maintain habitable living conditions within the apartment complex, but rather rented the units to “working poor” families while awaiting development of the neighboring beltline.

The slumlord’s agent leased and collected monthly rents of $500 and up with respect to 8 of the rental units, while the remaining 10 units were completely uninhabitable.  Of the 8 occupied units, all suffered from multiple housing code violations posing significant health and safety issues to the working poor occupants.  The violations included, no heat or air conditioning, nonfunctional water heaters, non-operational stoves and refrigerators, doors and windows that failed to open and/or lock, leaky plumbing, sparking electrical outlets and switches, infestation by rats, roaches, even rat snakes, not to mention excessive moisture causing mold and mildew.  

The housing code violations went unenforced for months on end as the slumlords agent claimed, he could not contact the slumlord, had not yet retained counsel, or needed more time to repair the cited violations.  Despite the outstanding housing code violations, the slumlords agent continued to insist upon the timely payment of rents from the working poor families.  [See "Should Atlanta do a Better Job Enforcing Housing Code Violations at Substandard Rental Properties", posted  3/8/23].

The slumlords downfall began when its realty agent began a series of eviction proceedings against the working poor families.  The first eviction proceeding resulted in a judgment we obtained for a working poor family in the amount of $25,000, including an award of punitive damages.  However, within days of the judgment being entered, the slumlord transferred the dilapidated complex to a new slumlord in attempting to avoid both the judgment and the pending housing code violations.  Such a “cat and mouse game” is representative of how slumlords routinely dodge attempts to hold them accountable for the living conditions under which the working poor families are forced to exist. 

Thankfully, slumlords represent a small fraction of the reputable landlords within the metropolitan Atlanta area.  Yet these slumlords continue to thrive and profit off the backs of working poor families faced with the choice of homelessness versus staying in substandard rental units that are unsafe and uninhabitable.  It is only natural for people to view the living conditions of themselves as well as the living conditions of others through the lens of their own life experiences.  Most Atlantans do not know the BLUFF exists, never knew it was located beside the Mercedes Benz Stadium, and have most certainly never been there. But the BLUFF does exist,  It is real.  And far more needs to be done to eradicate slumlords who continue to thrive in neighborhoods such as the BLUFF.   


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