Tenants claim North Georgia pastor is a slumlord - CBS46 News

Tenants claim North Georgia pastor is a slumlord

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LUMPKIN COUNTY, GA (CBS46) -

A battle between a North Georgia pastor and her tenants has turned downright ugly.

Several tenants told CBS Atlanta News they trusted the woman of God when they rented properties from her. But they said the conditions she had them living in were unsafe, filthy and unfit for humans.

One of those tenants was Faith DeForest.  DeForest told CBS Atlanta News that a real estate agent introduced her to the pastor, Jammie Fortner, who in turn helped her rent a home to live in.

"I thought, 'This might just be a God thing, really,'" DeForest said.

DeForest said she was desperate for a place to live.

"[Fortner] said, 'Don't you worry your pretty little head about it, you will have a place to sleep at night,'" DeForest said.

DeForest said she went and viewed the house Fortner was talking about when it was turning dusk, and there was no electricity on in the home.

"I went ahead and signed the lease, paid her the money, came back the next day, had the electricity turned on, and I fell to my knees in tears," DeForest said.

DeForest lived in the home in Dahlonega for about 12 weeks. She showed CBS Atlanta News checks for six weeks of rent and another two-week deposit.  But she said stopped paying rent because the home had no running water, no heat and was covered in mold.

"The toilets don't flush, the water doesn't run," DeForest said.

Deforest was evicted. She told CBS Atlanta she thought the pastor was preying on people's desperation.

"I think this is the most horrible and wicked thing I've ever come across in my life," she said. "Sunday at five, we have to be out and don't know where we're going."

DeForest said she was given only a few days to move and had no where to go.

"We've lived without heat all this time and no usable water source and all these horrible conditions," she said.  "There's not much worse that can happen at this point."

CBS Atlanta confronted Fortner, telling her she had tenants who believed she was a slumlord.

"I know, that is fine," Fortner responded.  "I am not a slumlord, they are slum tenants."

When asked if she thought the living conditions were fit for her tenants, Fortner avoided the question.

"You are judging me by the words of other people," Fortner said.

But those were the words of tenant after tenant in the homes belonging to Fortner, and the conditions were documented in court records and inspection reports. There were complaints of no water, no heat, floors with no coverings and sewage spilled just about everywhere.

"It was bad. You could smell it, day and night," former tenant Christy Cheatham told CBS Atlanta News.

Cheatham used to live a few doors down from DeForest.

"You can't expect somebody to live like this," she said, as she showed CBS Atlanta pictures of the damaged home she had lived in.

Cheatham said that while living in the home she had no heat, the floors had holes and there was sewage inside and outside the home.

"I think that it's awful that someone that's supposed to be a Christian pastor would expect someone live in those conditions," Cheatham said.

But Fortner said that it was her tenants who took advantage of her, not the other way around.

"The real story here is not about a pastor robbing people, because I don't rob people," Fortner said.

CBS Atlanta found dozens of court records where Fortner threw tenants out of her properties after they refused to pay rent because they said they shouldn't have to.

"It's a story of, 'I want to live here for free, and I want you to live without,'" Fortner said. "They are not paying rent, yet they want every little detail done."

Fortner took us through the DeForest's old house two days after she was evicted. Fortner said the home had running water when DeForest moved in, but CBS Atlanta News found it shut off.

"If there is no water, I wouldn't live there," Fortner said.  "If there is no electricity or heat, I wouldn't live there."

But the tenants said those were exactly the conditions in which Fortner left them to live. 

"Her website says that her mandate is to help the hungry and the homeless, and yet she's throwing them out right and left," DeForest said.

"She knows what she is doing is wrong," Cheatham agreed.

CBS Atlanta News also spoke by phone with two other tenants who had stories just like DeForest and Cheatham.

"I know when I sleep at night that I have a clear conscious that I do what I say I will do," said Fortner. "I help people."

So far, Fortner has prevailed in court, suing her tenants for the rent they owed her.

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