RINGGOLD, Ga. — A family of eight says they are victims of retaliation after they spoke out about their landlord on television when their road washed away in the Labor Day flooding.
Now they say they are being forced to leave their home.
Keith Houston said his sister was in labor and he was trying to take her to the hospital on Sept. 6 when his van tumbled over into a gaping hole caused by the road washing away in the storm that dumped more than 10 inches of rain on the area.
No one was hurt. A local news station later aired an interview with Houston about the accident on Tera Beth Lane. After the interview aired, Houston said his landlord, Tom Matthews, told him to leave that night, then blocked the privately owned road using paint cans and tree limbs to keep the family out.
“He wanted us out and didn’t care where we went,” Houston said.
But Matthews said he blocked the road because it was a safety hazard and said he asked the family to leave, offering to pay back part of the Houstons’ September rent for leaving early.
“There was no retaliation. It was a matter of safety,” Matthews said.
He said he was surprised to see Houston on television, adding that he had “bent over backward for those people.”
Georgia law requires a 60-day verbal notice for a tenant to be required to leave a rented home, said Catoosa County Magistrate Judge Vic Wells.
The Houstons, along with their pregnant sister and her two children, moved into the trailer on Tera Beth Lane at the beginning of August. The lane was bumpy and narrowed by washed-out ditches on both sides.
At the time, Houston said, Matthews told him the road would be fixed.
But the road was only patched, and when the 10-inch downpour hit Sept. 5, large chunks on both sides of the road washed away, he said.
Former next-door neighbor Debbie Haynes verified Houston’s story. Haynes said she moved out only days before the storm arrived because Matthews wouldn’t fix the road and she was worried about her safety.
After the storm, Houston’s wife, Patsy, said she saw Matthews blocking the road and he told her the Catoosa County Planning and Zoning office was fining him for the condition of the road.
Matthews denies ever mentioning being contacted by the county, and he said he believed the family had other access to their trailer when he blocked the road.
Catoosa County Zoning Administrator James Davis said the county doesn’t have jurisdiction over private roads.
Davis said he spoke with Keith Houston over the phone about the blocking of the road and advised him to call the sheriff’s office.
On Tuesday, Patsy Houston was packing up a bookshelf in the trailer’s living room and boxes were strewn throughout the family’s utility room. The couple said Matthews had refused to pay back their rent or return the $200 deposit. They now worry where they will go.
“We can’t find nothing to rent,” Patsy Houston said.
Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...