APN Editor Sued by Divvy Homes over Housing Advocacy
(APN) ATLANTA — Divvy Homes, a San Francisco-based rent to own company that is seeking to expand into the Atlanta market, is suing the News Editor of Atlanta Progressive News–the present writer–asking the Court to rescind their rent-to-own agreement on the basis of APN’s Editor being a “housing advocate.”
The controversial dispute between APN’s Editor and Divvy Homes has so far been covered by WSBTV Channel 2 television news and the Fulton County Daily Report newspaper.
Divvy Homes sued APN’s Editor on April 06, 2018, after balking at numerous repair requests, hiring the Troutman Sanders law firm to represent them.
Divvy Homes’s most outrageous request is that the Court rescind the rent-to-own lease on the basis that APN’s Editor entered into the lease “for his purposes of his own agenda as a housing advocate and not in a good faith effort to pursue home ownership.”
As evidence that APN’s Editor is a housing advocate, which is undisputed, Divvy pointed to a post to Facebook complaining about Divvy, and the following testimony by APN’s Editor to the Atlanta City Council’s Community Development/Human Services Committee.
APN’s Editor has filed an Anti-SLAPP Motion against Divvy Homes for abusing the judiciary by making claims that are based on the First Amendment activities of free speech and the freedom to petition one’s government for a redress of grievances.
A SLAPP claim is a Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation. Divvy Homes’s claim against APN’s Editor was strategically filed in an effort to chill APN’s Editor’s public participation in democracy.
The Georgia Legislature amended and expanded Georgia’s Anti-SLAPP law, O.C.G.A. 9-11-11.1, in 2016, when it created new categories of protected speech and petitioning.
If the Anti-SLAPP motion goes up on appeal, it could be the first time a Georgia appellate court will rule on the new Georgia Anti-SLAPP statute since it was amended in 2016.
Code Enforcement Involvement
The City of Atlanta’s Code Enforcement Division and Office of Buildings have already investigated the home, finding numerous code violations.
Code Enforcement has already issued a notice to Divvy Homes that they are required to make numerous repairs at the home, per the City of Atlanta Housing Code of 1987.
To date, Divvy has made no repairs pursuant to the Code Enforcement notice.
Divvy’s “Mutual Mistake” Claim
Divvy Homes is also seeking to get out of the lease on the basis of “mutual mistake.” They claim they were mistaken as to the need for repairs in the home.
However, numerous Georgia cases show that residential lessors are responsible to make repairs that they did not know about at the time of the lease formation, once they receive written or constructive notice from the tenant. Such repairs are referred to in case law as “latent defects.”
APN’s Editor has filed a Motion to Dismiss Divvy’s “mutual mistake” claim that is currently under consideration by the Court.
The Rent-to-Own Program
Divvy Homes offers a program that would seem to offer a lot of benefits, whereby Atlantans can get prequalified based on their income to select a home that they would ultimately like to buy.
Per their program, Divvy then purchases the home and enters into a three year lease with the tenant where the tenant has the exclusive right to re-purchase the property during those three years at a set price.
The tenant must put down three percent of the home value, adding to their downpayment fund every month so that at the end of three years, they have a ten percent downpayment saved.
The problem is, Divvy’s business model is premised upon them not making repairs, even though Georgia law requires lessors to make repairs. O.C.G.A. 44-7-13, 44-7-14, 44-7-2.
Divvy Homes’s standard lease provides that the tenant shall be responsible for all repairs. APN’s Editor negotiated the lease to state, instead, that Divvy would be responsible for all structural repairs.
Divvy made about 12,000 dollars worth of repairs upon move-in and then balked at the idea of spending any more money.
The case, 2018-CV-303228, is before Fulton County Superior Court Judge Craig Schwall, who previously presided over the litigation involving the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless and the eminent domain litigation involving Prof. Tanya Washington and Robert and Bertha Darden, both covered by Atlanta Progressive News.
Retaliation against Housing Advocates
Atlanta housing advocate Tim Franzen said it is not easy for housing advocates to find housing.
“Essentially now we live in this day where folks use Google when they’re making decisions about who… to let live in their spot,” Franzen told Atlanta Progressive News.
“A few years ago I had this experience where I was trying to find new housing. I got turned down everywhere I was going. Most folks wouldn’t tell me why, but I had this experience on this little house in Chosewood Park three or four years ago,” Franzen said.
“Chosewood Park wasn’t the most desirable place to live. They actually approved me based on my credit but they brought me into a special meeting, they let me know in a Google search that they saw my housing advocacy. They said their folks in their group thought my intent was to organize,” Franzen said.
“What they’re saying is, ‘We’re afraid of accountability. We don’t want to be accountable to our lease, to our tenants, to anybody who knows they have power in the situation,’” Franzen said.
“The implication is that if you’re a part of any kind of movement that is designed to hold those [lessors] accountable, that you’ll be punished for that, and you’ll not have the resources that other people have to survive, like housing,” Franzen said.
Most U.S. states have laws protecting tenants from retaliatory actions by lessors for requesting repairs or petitioning government for a redress of grievances.
The State of Georgia does not have such protections, although a bipartisan group of legislators is seeking to change that.
State Rep. Scott Hilton (R-Peachtree Corners) introduced HB 954 on Feb. 15, 2018, that would prohibit lessors from retaliating against existing tenants who request repairs, make a complaint to government, organize tenants, or participate in a tenants’ group.
Rep. Hilton tells APN that he introduced the bill on behalf of Georgia ACT, who holds a housing advocacy lobbying day at the Capitol each year. Filed somewhat late in the Session, the bill did not receive a hearing.
Rep. Hilton says he hopes to work with housing advocates to prepare for re-introduction of the bill next Legislative Session.
Federal law protects tenants who live in housing that receives federal funding, but the State of Georgia currently fails to offer that kind of protection.
“I think it should be a bill or ordinance or protection around renters. Landlords can just retaliate because you standing up for what’s your rights – repairs and other kind of things they can come against you with,” Sherise Brown, a Board Member of SMART ALEC, said.
“There should be a penalty if it can be proven they done that,” Brown said.
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2018)