A lease agreement between a Franklin homeowner and business owner may end in court.
Reuben Dickenson leased his Oxford Drive home off Highway 96 in Franklin to Hua Lin in April 2009. Lin, also known as Ricky Hayashi, owns Hayashi Japanese Buffet on Murfreesboro Road.
Only a few months into the agreement, Dickenson began getting complaints from neighbors about trash outside the home and traffic inside the home.
In response, Dickenson made addendums to the original lease agreement that required Lin to keep the property clean and limit occupancy to six family members; but the complaints continued.
In April 2011, Franklin Codes Department inspected the exterior of the home.
“They needed to abate a gutter system in need of repair and a large amount of trash/debris located at the rear of the driveway,” City Spokesperson Milissa Rierson stated in an email sent to Nashville's News 2.
The case was closed after changes were made.
By that time, when routine visits revealed nothing out of the ordinary, Dickenson felt Lin was in compliance with the lease agreement.
“They're living in less than optimal conditions, compared to how you would keep your house, but it's not that bad,” Dickenson said.
A year later, things changed.
“Suddenly, we had mold problems. The carpet was completely black. And the smell, you know, unventilated, it was just horrible,” he said.
Dickenson suspected tenants were not using the home's air conditioning system or the kitchen's fan, which he claimed contributed to grease build up and mold. He also found the bathroom counter was buckled and bathroom entryways marked with water and rust stains.
In the spring of 2012, Dickenson confronted Lin with the damage to the home.
“His response was, 'Oh, it's not that bad. I will take care of it. Trust me.' And that's going back about six months ago,” said Dickenson. “Three months ago, I said, 'You gotta leave and you owe for damages.'”
Dickenson told Nashville's News 2 he hand-delivered two eviction notices to Lin. On his attempt to deliver a third and final notice, he found the home empty.
Since then, Dickenson has gutted the home to replace carpet, appliances, and cabinetry, repair walls and eliminate mold. The damage could be worth as much as $30,000.
For Dickenson, the only thing worse than the damages to the home was the thought of Lin's restaurant employees being boarded there.
“Where the grease marks and black soot stops [on the carpet], there's a mattress,” he said. “By neighbors' estimates, we had 12 to 14 people here.”
Nashville's News 2 reached out to Lin. He declined a request for an on-camera interview, first citing a language barrier, then saying he was out of town. He agreed to talk by phone.
When asked how many people lived in the home, Lin couldn't give a specific number.
“I have seven, sometimes seven people, sometimes maybe eight or nine people, you know,” he said.
Lin admitted the tenants worked for him, but claimed they took care of the house. However, he did not dispute the damages.
“I know that I need to pay this damage, but I don't know how much,” he said. “I don't know how to pay [Dickenson].”
A lawsuit filed by Dickenson may determine if or how Lin pays for damages. Dickenson has hired a private process server to notify Lin of the lawsuit, but the server has been unable to find Lin.
Dickenson hopes to accomplish three things with his lawsuit.
“Of course, we want our damage fixed,” he said. “Second, [Lin] should not be allowed to rent from anyone else. And the third thing is the condition of the workers who he has at his restaurant. I think that bears further investigation.”
According to Rierson, the International Property Maintenance Code, adopted by the city of Franklin, requires 50 square feet per person per bedroom. This can be determined by an interior inspection, which is rare and requires a warrant. Enforcement of occupancy laws is also difficult because of the need to confirm the number and identity of the tenants.
This is the second time Lin has faced a lawsuit involving a lease agreement and damages to a home.
Nearly four years ago, Lin and his brother, Jian, were sued by another Franklin couple under similar circumstances.
The brothers were accused of renting a home in the Franklin Green subdivision, allowing a large number of restaurant employees to live there, and causing damage to the home.
The case was resolved on appeal, after the homeowners were awarded a settlement in the initial filing.