Dozens of residents and supporters marched to the office of Rose Crest at Talus, a federally-subsidized low-income apartment complex in Issaquah, to protest the unfair and threatening treatment residents say they have faced in the past three months.
Residents at the apartment complex, which is owned by Imagine Housing and operated by FPI Management, said they have been receiving several unfair 10-day notices “to comply with lease or quit premises” over small issues since the beginning of the year as well as several rent increases, when a new property manager began working there in January.
With help from the Washington Community Action Network (CAN), residents organized the protest on April 10 to ask the property managers to meet with them to discuss the alleged improper use of these notices and to discuss apartment policies. The group of families, friends, CAN members, a representative of 8th District congressional candidate Kim Schrier, and 8th District congressional candidate Shannon Hader marched to the managers office to deliver their own 10-day notice demanding a meeting with the leadership of both Imagine Housing and FPI Management.
CAN Political Director Xochitl Maykovich said the group wants to meet with the management to discuss policies that would protect the residents.
“We want to meet with the head of FPI Management and the head of Imagine Housing and we want them to rescind these eviction notices,” Maykovich said. “And we want to talk through policies that will prevent this situation from happening again and also rescind their rent increases.”
The large group marched through the rain to the management office to ask for the meeting. When they arrvied, the people inside locked the door and closed the blinds once they saw the residents and supporters outside with their signs. There, residents spoke to the group about the conflicts they have had with the new management.
Violeta Sialer, school bus driver and resident at Rose Crest for nine years, said that when new property management began in January of this year, the problems started. She received multiple 10-day notices “to comply with lease or quit premises” on March 14 when her 18-year-old son, Craig, parked slightly over a marked parking space line.
One notice was for the parking violation claiming the vehicle blocked access to the exit for another resident. Sialer took a photo of the parking space where her son had parked only slightly over the line. She said the photo shows that the notice was unfair. The second notice was in response to Craig going in to the office to address the complaint. Sialer said the manager called the police on him and issued another 10-day notice for disrespecting or verbally abusing management staff. A third notice requesting Sialer to remove an “unauthorized resident” came after the manager refused to add her son to the lease contract when he turned 18.
“When my son turned 18 years old he was supposed to be added to the contract, because that’s how they do it here, once your child turns 18 he is supposed to be added to the contract. So when we were supposed to go and sign, these problems started with the parking,” Sialer said.
In a voicemail recording Sialer saved, the manager said that even though Craig moved the car she was not going to add him to the contract, forcing him out despite acknowledging that he had nowhere else to go.
After receiving these notices Sialer learned that many of her neighbors had been experiencing problems when the new management arrived in January. Dramatic raises in rent and 10-day notices were common themes with many of the residents at the protest.
“That’s when I realized there was many, many other people with these problems,” she said. “My neighbors, they had increases from 25 percent to 120 percent of the rent, they gave them only one month notice.”
One of Sialer’s friends and neighbors had her rent increased and lost her job. She plans to start living in her car at the end of the month when she is forced out with nowhere to go. Sialer’s father, who also lives at Rose Crest, receives a fixed income and when his rent was raised under the new management she had to lend him money to stay in his home.
When faced with the pressure of the 10-day notices and learning that other residents were also facing similar challenges and threats to be evicted, Sialer went to the King County Bar Association’s Housing Justice Project. The HJP provides legal services to low-income tenants to prevent eviction and homelessness. It was through the HJP that Sialer was connected with the advocacy group Washington Community Action Network.
Maykovich said that renting laws in the state are stacked in favor of landlords and lack protections for the renters. The ability to regulate rent is not legal in the state, she said, but recent movements by legislators have been trying to change that. State Rep. Nicole Macri, D-Seattle, introduced legislation earlier this year to end the state’s ban on rent regulation, she said.
“There would be protections for having your child here so they wouldn’t be able to threaten to evict someone as soon as they turn 18, you couldn’t evict people for minor things such as parking over a line, but the Legislature chose not to move that forward and I think that’s a sign of where the Legislature values tenant rights,” Maykovich said. “I think organizing is the answer to systemic problems. Right now, how weak our tenant rights are is a systemic problem and so we are organizing to change that and we will continue organizing to change that until we win.”
Additionally, Makovich said that cities like Issaquah can take action to help tenants rights, by passing eviction reform policies, even if they can’t regulate rent.
In an email response to the Issaquah Reporter, Imagine Housing Executive Director Villette Nolon wrote that the rent increases were based on an annual review of household income along county, state, and federal guidelines. She also said that management does plan to meet with residents to discuss the policies in question.
“On March 1, 2018, we notified residents of rate increases, effective April 1. This is part of our normal operations and rent is adjusted on an annual basis. These rent rates are regulated closely at the county, state and federal level. Part of the rent increase process includes a review of household income. We are extremely careful to meet those regulatory requirements,” Nolon said. “We are aware of several of the residents’ concerns. As compassionate members of the community who provide affordable places to live, we will continue to definitely meet with each resident to discuss our policies and the terms of their lease. Due to privacy concerns, we will meet with each household individually and will not discuss their personal cases, publicly.”