Tiffany Fitzgerald was paying $2,600 a month for a five-bedroom rental house she didn’t live in.
The single mother of a teenage boy and girl lived in Charlotte-area Airbnb properties for weeks because of a gaping hole in the ceiling and other issues with the property.
There is extensive water damage in one bathroom. Mold is present. The home has little working electricity, and the kitchen is not functional for cooking. The Invitation Homes-owned property has been in disrepair for months and Charlotte code enforcement recently deemed the house uninhabitable.
After contacting The Charlotte Observer and what she described as a “nightmare over the last three weeks,” she was able to secure a rental home in Matthews not associated with Invitation Homes and was freed from her lease. She and the company agreed to a financial settlement, and Fitzgerald said she’s sharing her story so other families don’t experience the same issue.
Before it reached a breaking point, Fitzgerald noticed and reported a small water leak shortly after moving in last September.
Fitzgerald says she battled with property management to address the laundry list of repairs.
A GoFundMe was started for Fitzgerald to help cover moving expenses. As of Monday, $2,215 had been donated toward a $3,000 goal. In posts on the fundraising page, she describes trying to navigate “this nightmare over the last three weeks.”
“I find myself in a desperate situation, a week of enduring a home that’s crumbling around us,” she wrote in a GoFundMe post. “A slow leak and sweating pipes have left my kitchen ceiling destroyed, the subfloor ruined, and the shower tiles above now cracking.”
Fitzgerald claimed that after immediately reporting the leak and the mold, which followed soon after, to the landlord, a contractor came out to “merely paint over it.”
The Charlotte Observer contacted Invitation Homes’ offices for further details on Fitzgerald’s situation. Officials didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.
Response to damages has been ‘neglectful’
Fitzgerald said the hole in the ceiling above her kitchen came about after a worker inadvertently cut an electrical wire while attempting to address the leak. The worker suggested sheet rock be installed to patch the hole. But that couldn’t happen because the origin of the original leak she reported had not been found.
The response, said Fitzgerald, was “neglectful.” Renters insurance, she said, wouldn’t cover repair expenses due to a claim of landlord negligence.
“The negligence has reached a point where Invitation Homes has admitted the house is not safe, but repairs are on hold, leaving me, a full-time single mom with disabilities, and my two kids, including a rescue dog, facing homelessness,” she detailed in the GoFundMe message.
North Carolina’s landlord and tenant laws are found in Chapter 42 of the state statute. The law requires landlords to provide “fit and habitable” conditions. This generally means the home must be safe and have adequate heat, water, and plumbing, according to Legal Aid of North Carolina. The landlord must also comply with applicable building and housing codes, make repairs, keep the building and common areas safe, and maintain electricity, ventilation, and smoke alarms.
Invitation Homes is one of about 20 institutional investors that have bought thousands of single-family homes across North Carolina in the past decade. In Mecklenburg County, large corporate landlords own one-quarter of all rental houses. In Charlotte, Invitation Homes owns about 1,900 properties.
Fitzgerald, who has lived in Charlotte since moving from Arkansas in 2014, said the living arrangement was one of few immediate options in the area she could consider after a divorce and a tight single-family home rental market.
In a post on GoFundMe Sunday, Fitzgerald wrote that she was sitting on the floor of what will be an office in her new home and was waiting on movers to deliver furniture. It was “beautiful, quiet and safe,” she said.
Corporate landlords have received complaints
A 2022 investigation by The Charlotte Observer and News & Observer found investors bought up properties across the state and rented them out. Formal and informal tenant complaints like Fitzgerald’s have been common
The Better Business Bureau received more than 1,500 complaints related to Invitation Homes within the last three years.
In April, dozens rallied outside of Invitation Homes’ office on Harris Corners Parkway and expressed the company had been unresponsive to tenants’ issues regarding maintenance requests and the condition of their homes.
“I didn’t know they had all these issues with tenants until I had mine,” Fitzgerald said. “My eyes have been opened. We applied to three or four places. And this (Invitation Homes) was the one that approved us, and we had to go.”