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News 4 Investigates: Unintended consequences of a COVID-19 eviction moratorium

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Chanty Clay.jpg

Chanty Clay owns the Jennings home that was left a mess after her tenant moved out.

ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- A court order to protect tenants during the pandemic is having an unintended consequence for some St. Louis area landlords. With evictions on hold a St. Louis property owner became desperate for help. News 4 Investigates examined why the eviction moratorium is putting financial pressure on some homeowners.

Chanty Clay, a homeowner who rents out her Jennings home, believed a woman who lived there was allowing several adults and children, who were not on the lease, to live in the home.

“I have a situation now where a young lady rented our home in January [of 2020]. It's her and two kids. We have discovered that there are 3 additional adults along with 6 or 7 additional kids. Our property has been destroyed,” Clay said.

Clay said she is sympathetic to the economic blow many are facing during the pandemic but said the situation she found herself in is different.

“We have tenants that are fully aware that our hands are tied,” she said.

News 4 Investigates went to the Jennings home, looking for Betty Phillips, who is on the lease. A woman who answered the door said she was Betty’s sister, housesitting while Phillips was away.

“I’m not Betty, but her and her two kids stay here,” the woman said before our cameras caught her profanity-laced tirade. “I’m her sister. I only housesit when she’s gone.”

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A repairman told Clay the inside of her property was trashed. Clay showed up to inspect and while the woman on the lease wasn't home, others let her inside. Clay took video showing piles of garbage, doors taken off the hinges, writing all over the walls, a destroyed bathroom, light fixtures knocked off the ceilings, and more.

“There was black mold growing up the wall and trash and looked like our place was abandoned,” Clay said, who added she saw multiple mattresses on the floor, where others could sleep. “Not only are they behind in rent, they have destroyed our property.”

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A photo of the remodeled home taken prior to the Phillips' moving in around January, 2020.

An administrative order enacted because of COVID-19 in St. Louis County prevents landlords from evicting tenants. Clay said she and her husband upgraded the home - and provided pictures to prove it - before Betty Phillips moved in. Clay called the City of Jennings, which deemed the structure unfit for human occupancy, but Clay says her tenant was given the chance to clean up the mess. 

News 4 asked the woman – who claimed to be Phillips’ sister, about that, who said “I don’t know you got to take it up with Betty when she get’s here. I’m done.” At that point, Clay called Betty Phillips, who was not happy.

“I'm trying to figure out why the news is at my house,” Phillips said. “That's invading my privacy.” Phillips then admitted her and her children caused the damage, before going into a rant a News 4 camera recorded.

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Clay isn't the only one facing a difficult situation. According to St Louis County courts "there is a backlog of 350 eviction judgments."

It doesn't appear evictions will be allowed to resume anytime soon. According to the courts, it's partly to protect sheriff's deputy employees from contracting COVID-19.

Normal court proceedings will occur in three phases. A spokesperson for St. Louis County said, “we won't carry out evictions until phase two, and we are now in phase zero.”

“My message is to have a more balanced approach,” Clay said. “Consider the impact on landlords. It feels there's this misconception we have all these resources and can go back in. This is a part of our livelihood, so someone took blood sweat and tears that my husband and I took in upgrading this property for granted."

News 4 Investigates’ Chris Nagus called Phillips, who declined to be recorded over the phone, but she told us she and her kids are the only ones that live at the property. She added some family members stay with her from time to time. She blamed some of the damage on Clay. In the end, a couple weeks after that phone call, Phillips left the property on her own.

“She sent me a text message saying she was going to get out of my house,” Clay said. “I really do think all attention we brought on the place and destruction of our property; she chose to leave.”

Clay considers herself lucky; she got her home back without having to wait for evictions to continue. But she also feels unlucky as well.

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“It looks like a bomb was thrown in here.”

News 4 was with her as she stumbled through the mess she's now responsible for. Not only did the previous tenant abandon two cars in the driveway, she left the home looking like a dumping ground. We found garbage, televisions, food, and all kinds of costly repairs.

Clay hopes her story will shine a light on a policy that's intended to help but is also causing harm.

“Not only have they destroyed my property, you felt protected to not even pay rent,” she said. 

Copyright 2021 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

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