RJ Thornton at Tremont Aparments

Street View is a monthly column in which we’ll take a close look at development-related issues affecting different neighborhoods throughout the city.

RJ Thornton and his fiancée had lived in South Nashville’s Tremont Apartments for nearly four years when they found out that their monthly rent was increasing by 90 percent.

Thornton moved to Tremont when he first came to Nashville because it was known to be affordable. When Nashville-based property management company Brookside Properties bought Tremont in June, he went to the new management office to see how much his rent would increase. At the time, there were 60 days left on his lease.

“We were anticipating a $400 increase for the area — crime, space, no amenities, we’re going to be OK,” Thornton says. 

Instead, the new manager — who Thornton says was eating a Snickers bar during their conversation — told him his rent was increasing from $1,000 to $1,949 per month when his lease renewed on Oct. 1. “I think my brain had a short for a second,” he says. “I said, ‘Can you repeat that number to me one more time?’ And he said $1,949.”

Thornton and his fiancée, who were getting married a week after their lease renewed, had just two months to find a new place. While his Metro Council district representative and local housing advocacy groups offered support and resources, Thornton discovered there was no law limiting how much Brookside could increase his rent. And this wasn’t the first time the company had benefited from the lack of regulation around rental increases. Dating back to 2014, Brookside has bought historically affordable complexes — often ones known for providing Section 8 assistance — and raised rent significantly with little notice. 

In 2014, residents at Howe Garden Apartments and 500 Fifth Apartments, both in East Nashville, experienced similar price hikes. When Brookside bought the properties, some residents’ rents increased as much as 80 percent, according to a Tennessean report. Some residents had just over a month to move out. Howe Garden was a historically affordable place to live — many residents received Section 8 assistance. 

In December 2021, Brookside acquired an apartment complex in Nicholasville, Ky. Local media outlets reported that Brookside gave residents until the end of January to vacate, leaving many with unexpected moving expenses over the holidays. “It’s legal, but it’s not right,” one resident said at the time. (Worth noting: According to a story by Lexington’s ABC affiliate at the time, Brookside offered to return deposits, waive January rent and give “financial assistance to help offset relocation costs” to residents, though follow-up details were not provided.)

Back to Nashville and RJ Thornton. He found a new apartment. His neighbors moved out. Brookside painted the red-brick complex white — spraying his outdoor plants in the process, Thornton says. On Aug. 24, he gave Tremont’s management the formal 30-day notice to vacate. On Aug. 31, the complex left him a formal notice of nonrenewal stating that he and his fiancée must vacate the property by Sept. 30 or face potential legal costs. 

District 16 Metro Councilmember Ginny Welsch helped Thornton through his legal options as he planned to move out. “Tremont was one of the last affordable complexes, and with that gone, there really isn’t anywhere to rent here that doesn’t cost-burden the average person,” Welsch says. “The laws are on the side of the landlord.” 

Last year, Tennessee passed legislation prohibiting local governments from enforcing regulations that conflict with the Tennessee Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act, which is designed to standardize leasing regulations across the state. But this standardization takes away local governments’ ability to pass their own leasing regulations — according to Welsch and Thornton, this includes provisions for requiring landlords to keep copies of tenants’ leases and provide at least 90 days notice prior to a rental increase upon a lease’s renewal. Welsch says that for a month-to-month tenancy, landlords can provide as little as 30 days before a rental increase. 

And there’s no law in place limiting the amount landlords can increase rent. 

Affordable housing in Nashville is a complex puzzle of rezoning, rising cost of living, lack of affordable units and more. But the situation becomes even more dire when tenants can’t rely on their rent staying affordable. Thornton says Tremont’s new property manager told a resident who had lived in the complex for 25 years that his rent was increasing by $1,100 per month. Thornton says he asked the property manager, “Do you have an extra $1,000 liquid to put toward putting a roof over your head?” The property manager didn’t answer. 

Welsch says that although tenants have limited options for fighting a large rental increase, they should keep a copy of their lease and “make sure there isn’t a provision in their lease that gives them more rights and leverage.” 

Since his experience at Tremont, Thornton has been sharing his story with everyone he can. “Yes, it could happen to you,” he warns his fellow renters. “It can, and it will eventually.”

Thornton, a drummer, says the rising housing costs are pushing the artists he knows farther from Nashville — to areas like Murfreesboro and Mt. Juliet. “The musicians playing on Broadway don’t live in Nashville,” he says. “We are just surrounding the city that we want to call home.” 

Brookside Properties did not respond to the Scene’s multiple requests for comment.

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