After tree falls on home, Covid-stricken family returns to miserable situation

Landlord threatened to evict the family after rent was withheld, assessed them hundreds of dollars in fees
Published: Jul. 22, 2022 at 3:58 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 22, 2022 at 7:08 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - Having just spent a month in a hotel after a 100-year-old tree fell on their home, a Peachtree City family said their landlord has made getting back into the house more miserable.

“Frustrating, depressing, overwhelming,” is how Susan St. Jean described the situation. “It’s a lot. It’s been a lot.”

The St. Jeans’ landlord, Invitation Homes, had an arborist remove the tree days after it fell, and also hired a contractor to fix the roof. But the family said water continued to pour into the kitchen for almost a week afterward.

“We had rain come in and standing water in the kitchen for at least 10 days,” Susan St. Jean, whose family is recovering from Covid, said.

Renter’s insurance allowed the St. Jeans to stay at a Holiday Inn, and Invitation Homes offered to relocate the family. But when the insurance money ran out, the family returned to their still-damaged home.

Invitation Homes is a massive, publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange. It owns 86,000 single-family homes across the nation and has 13,000 properties in metro Atlanta. An Invitation spokesperson said the company has a 79% renewal rate with an average stay of three years.

However, Invitation Homes has also been profiled by The New York Times and the Washington Post, and not in a good way.

Erin Willoughby of Atlanta Legal Aid said her agency has gotten lots of complaints such as “not getting stuff done, aggressive fees, very quick to evict ... all things that are typical from large corporations.”

When the St. Jeans withheld the family’s rent, Invitation threatened to evict them and also assessed them with hundreds of dollars in fees. The St. Jeans tried to dispute the fees at Invitation’s Sandy Springs office, but the location was closed because of the pandemic.

Willoughby said renters should never withhold payment, even if they’re staying in a hotel. “They are on the hook for rent because Georgia law is very friendly to landlords, and they may have some claims they can pursue in court if they want to,” she said.

After being contacted by CBS46, Invitation has not only agreed to remove those fees but has also credited the St. Jeans’ rent, saving the family $2,400.

“Invitation Homes is proud to provide high quality homes to the growing number of Americans who choose to rent versus own. Our associates genuinely care about ensuring we provide an exceptional experience for our residents, and our local Atlanta team works hard every day to honor the trust that 13,000+ Atlanta-area families and individuals have placed in us to provide them a safe and secure home.

‘We are always sorry to hear we missed the mark on serving one of our residents. In this instance, we had a contractor on site the morning after the storm to remove the tree and to tarp the roof. The roof was fully repaired a week later, and other interior work is nearly complete. We know this family has been out of their home for a while, and we have apologized and are working to make it right for them. Our licensed contractors have nearly completed the work, and we working with the resident to ensure their home is once again safe and comfortable for them so that their kids can get settled before school starts.

‘While we acknowledge that we occasionally miss the mark, we also know that the vast majority of our residents appreciate our efforts, as shown by our 98% occupancy rate, 79% renewal rate, sustained A+ BBB rating, combined Google and Yelp rating above 4.0, and residency tenure of around three years.”

Kristi DesJarlais, senior vice president, Invitation Homes

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