Landlord upset with property damage

Robert Sterling shows the damage and trash left behind by renters. Robert Sterling has been renting out his former home on 15th Street for 20 years and hasn't come out a dime richer. He had to leave an empty house untouched for two weeks after the tenants left, per the law, and thieves came in and gutted it. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)

Trent Penny/The Anniston Star

It was once Robert Sterling’s home, but now the house on West 15th Street has become more a curse than a blessing.

For two decades, the Anniston resident has leased his former home to various renters. Earlier this year, he says, a renter in effect abandoned the house, turning off the utilities. By the time he was able to get into the house himself, he said, thieves had stolen the air conditioner and damaged the walls looking for copper.

“I’m tempted to tear it down,” Sterling said. “All these years I’ve been renting it, and I haven’t made a dime.”

A bill before the Alabama House of Representatives could change some of the rules in landlord-tenant relationships, with an eye toward making things easier for property owners like Sterling — though advocates for the poor say it will make low-income renters’ lives harder.

HB421 would allow landlords to evict renters in three days if they fail to fix breaches of their lease. Under current law, it takes a week to evict a renter. A decade ago, renters had two weeks to get right with their landlords before being kicked out.

Attempts to reach the bill’s sponsor, Rep. David Sessions, R-Grand Bay, were unsuccessful Wednesday.

Earlier this week, Sessions told the online news outlet Alabama Today that the state’s landlord-tenant laws are so “restrictive on the landlords that getting a bad tenant out is often a lengthy, complicated process.” Getting a tenant out can take six months if the tenant challenges in court, he said, and the landlord bears the cost.

Kimble Forrister, director of the group Alabama Arise, said the Sessions proposal would mean renters would have little more than a weekend to leave if they park in an apartment parking lot without a permit, keep a pet in violation of a lease or other seemingly minor infractions. It’s hard for anyone, much less a person in poverty, to find a new home in three days, he said.

“We started out with a law that allowed 14 days to cure a breach in a lease,” Forrister said. “That was a fair balance, and landlords have been fighting it ever since.”

A 2014 law cut the 14-day wait down to seven days.

Sterling, who’s attended recent Anniston City Council meetings asking for less local regulation on landlords, said the three-day limit sounds like a good start. He said the break-in at his rental property happened four days after his renters left and turned off the power. He said that according to the leasing agent he hired to manage the property, he couldn’t go into it until 14 days after the power was shut off. (Dev Wakely, a policy analyst for Arise, said the law would likely have allowed him to enter the house in seven days.)

“I’m not a monster,” Sterling said. “I know some people need more than three days to get out. But there’s got to be some way you can rent a house without all this trouble.”

State records show the bill has already passed through a House committee, meaning it could be on the House floor as early as this week.


Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.