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When construction crews began work on the Grey Gallery and Lounge at 11th Avenue and East Pike Street last July, Geoffrey Harrison and his fiancée Kristi Tamcsin, who have lived and painted in a 1,500-square-foot artist loft now directly above Grey, say they often heard workers begin work before 7:00 a.m. and go late into the night.
When the workers went away last winter, the noise didn't stop. The rhythmic thumping of OutKast and Radiohead rose up through the walls and awakened Harrison and his neighbors in the lofts above. "[Grey] is right underneath our kitchen," says Harrison, who's lived in the space for six years. "Now, you go to bed with the music from the club."
After months of sleepless nights, Harrison and several of his neighbors began complaining to their landlord, Grey's owner, and even the police. "We've had nights where the police came three or four times," Harrison says.
Grey's owner, Erik Guttridge, says he tried to work with his neighbors. "I did the best I could to maintain a good relationship," Guttridge says. "[But] we do play music in here and it's a vital element of a lounge. We're not [the] huge, bass-thumping... nightclub they're trying to make us out to be."
After weeks of pushing the issue, Harrison didn't get the peace and quiet he had hoped for. Instead, on March 9, Harrison's landlord, Nicole Stone, served him and two other neighbors with orders to vacate their units. It turns out the landlord's actions may have been illegal, according to the city's Department of Planning and Development (DPD), which says the orders to vacate violate the city's Just Cause Eviction Ordinance.
Stone had told the tenants to move for not purchasing liability insurance. Ironically, when the city showed up at the beleaguered residents' request to investigate the eviction notice, DPD told Stone that the tenants were not supposed to be living in the loft spaces anyway. Stone, however, says she didn't know tenants were living there.
While there are 13 lofts in the building above Grey, only Harrison and his next-door neighbors—Samantha Barrett and Stranger intern Ryan Jackson, who had also tussled with Grey over the noise—received orders to vacate. Incensed by what they saw as retaliation for their complaints, the booted tenants contacted the city. Two weeks later, the DPD sent inspectors out to look at the building and talk with tenants.
Tenants are adamant they were retaliated against. Jackson and Barrett have been in the building for over a year, and had previously e-mailed their landlord in May about some problem tenants who had been keeping them up. Former building manager Mat Griesse confirmed that Stone "knew people were living there."
When Harrison moved into his unit in 2002, he says he was advised "not to draw attention to the place," and since several of the units have full kitchens and bathrooms—Harrison even claims Stone once coached him through replacing a broken gas stove—it seemed unlikely the units were only intended for commercial use.
Greg Cavagnaro, the attorney representing Stone, says tenants' claims of retaliation are "completely false" and Stone claims the units were intended to be artist work spaces rather than residences. Stone adds that any kitchens inside of units are "things that tenants have put in without my knowledge."
Meanwhile, inspectors found problems with plumbing and wiring—which violate city housing standards—and tenants will likely be forced to move anyway. Some residents, like Jackson, say they can't afford to relocate without assistance. DPD does provide money to tenants displaced by building changes—as much as $2,800, with half paid by the property owner—but that money is being held up by a legal challenge from Stone.
Stone has offered to rent Harrison another studio in South Lake Union, but he's considering alternatives. "We don't want to continue to rent from [someone] that doesn't have our back," he says.