Building the Struggle against Slumlords

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This week has marked a series of victories in the movement for high quality affordable housing for all, and against slumlords!

In response to notorious slumlord Carl Haglund’s attempt at doubling the rent on the tenants of the Charles Street Apartments, a building wracked with infestations and 225 housing code violations, tenants reached out to my City Council office. Together with the Tenants Union of Washington and Councilmember Licata, we helped tenants organize into their own 6511 Rainier Tenant Association.

We then sent out a call to protest their economic eviction.

The night before the rally, Carl Haglund backed down and pledged to freeze rents, until the apartments were brought up to code, and offered one month free rent.

This only energized the movement.

Over 100 people showed up to stand in solidarity with tenants at 8:00 am, undeterred by rain and the onset of fall. Councilmember Mike O’Brien and King County Councilmember Larry Gossett joined me, with Councilmember Nick Licata sending words of support. Members of the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action (PSARA), the Seattle King County NAACP, the Transit Riders Union (TRU), Socialist Alternative, Stand Against Foreclosure and Eviction (SAFE), LGBTQ Allyship, Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), and Real Change were all present and eager to demand real action by the city and Haglund.

In his lackluster defense, Carl Haglund said that he “was as shocked as anyone at the condition of the building.” We know otherwise. Sahro Farah, a tenant of the cockroach-infested Charles Street Apartments and single mother of five, emphasized that she had been intimidated by Haglund until they organized and fought back. “Five times he told me to my face, ‘I don’t care. I don’t care.’ He was in my face! Very hostile. I was scared, but I did not back down,” Sahro said.

At the rally, two other tenants – Osman Osman and Samira Meshalla – echoed Sahro’s call, giving powerful speeches about the need to stand up to slumlords and organize tenants.

Councilmember Mike O’Brien pointed out that the City Council recently closed a loophole that allows landlords to raise rents as a way of evicting tenants and avoid paying relocation assistance as Haglund tried to do. He also emphasized that Seattle’s laws are riddled with loopholes in favor of abusive landlords over tenants’ rights, and that much more work needs to be done. This is why we need a Tenants Bill of Rights that massively expands legal protections for tenants.

Councilmember Larry Gossett made the crucial point that our hard-working brothers and sisters facing these massive rent increases need rent control, or their displacement from Seattle is inevitable. I entirely agree. Big Business, real estate and landlord lobbyists argue that policies like rent control encourage slumlords. Haglund is a perfect example of how the opposite is true: Slumlords thrive in unregulated markets, when tenants lack political power.

Just hours after the rally concluded, the Department of Planning and Development delivered to Haglund a comprehensive list of exactly what needs to be fixed. Since we’ve visited the apartments, it’s no surprise to us, but this list of 225 housing code violations proves without a doubt that the Charles Apartments are hazardous to human life.

Councilmember Licata and I will continue to monitor this situation and keep a spotlight on it until the building is brought up to code. Further, the DPD will be inspecting all of Carl Haglund’s buildings where tenants are in the process of filing complaints. Tenants from other buildings owned by this slumlord have reached out to my office to let me know that they are also facing rent increases while being forced to live in appalling units – units that are also run down, infested with pests, black mold, and at risk from fire damage and inclement weather due to broken appliances.

These tenants, like all people in our city, deserve to live in safe, clean, and well-kept apartments.

We have the following demands:

  1. Carl Haglund needs to keep his word. He has promised October rent-free to the tenants at Charles Street Apartments. The tenants need to be returned their October rents urgently.
  2. The DPD requires that the 225 code violations be resolved by November 7, 2015. Haglund must meet that deadline.
  3. One of the tenants, Osman Osman, has received an invoice for $506 from Haglund for repairs. We need Haglund to send Osman a new invoice with a $0.00 balance.
  4. Haglund needs to resolve code violations that will be documented by the DPD in the coming days in other buildings he owns.

Let’s step up the pressure and make sure all his tenants are protected.

When we organize and fight, we win! But we need to make sure to keep up the fight until we have won decent living conditions for all.