Tenants at a low-income housing complex in Issaquah say their landlord is issuing unfair threats of eviction over minor issues. And if the landlord follows through, the tenants say, they could end up on the streets.
At least 12 households have received eviction notices, according to an organizer with the Washington Community Action Network, which demonstrated at the building on Tuesday.
The 51-unit apartment building serves people making around $28,000 to $58,000 a year for a family of four. Imagine Housing, a Kirkland-based nonprofit, owns the building. Tenants say after years of stability, a new property manager has issued multiple notices to comply with rules within 10 days or vacate the property. Such notices are not legal evictions, but are the necessary first step before a landlord can take a tenant to court.
The executive director of Imagine Housing denies tenants are being treated unfairly.
Violeta Sialer, a widow who lives with her 18-year-old son and works as a bus driver, says the property manager at the building is trying to kick her son out after several disputes over parking. Sialer says her son recently questioned the property manager about enforcement of parking rules and the property manager called the police. Sialer's son is black and Latino, she said.
“They were afraid,” Sialer said. “The only reason I can think of is because he’s black.”
On March 14, the property manager issued Sialer a 10-day notice saying her son would no longer be allowed in the building. The notice requests that Sialer provide documentation proving her son is living in another location. "He lives with me," said Sialer, pointing out that her son is still in high school. "This is his home."
When Silaer sought help from the property management company in finding new housing, she says they gave her a list of homeless shelters.
Villette Nolon, executive director of Imagine Housing, said Sialer and her son have repeatedly parked blocking another resident’s vehicle, which creates a “health and safety issue.”
Nolon said she was not aware of the notice instructing Sialer’s son to leave, of police responding, or of Sialer receiving a list of shelters. (Sialer provided a copy of the notice regarding an "unauthorized occupant" in her apartment as well as a voicemail from the property manager saying her son, Craig, would not be included on her renewed lease.) Nolon says “the issue has nothing to do with anything racial.”
“We don’t issue 10-day notices lightly,” Nolon said. “A 10-day notice is something that tells the tenant they have to get into compliance with the lease they signed.”
Another tenant, Margarita Mayoral, said through a translator that she received two 10-day notices after she replaced the carpet in her apartment. The notices said that change and the fact that Mayoral has a dog are violations of her lease agreement. Mayoral says pets have long been allowed at the apartment building without any problem. Mayoral lives with her husband and three children. She works part time cleaning houses and uses a Section 8 voucher to help pay her rent. Several years ago, the property managers at the building informed her they had underestimated the amount of rent she owed and required her to pay $10,000 in back rent in $500 per month installments. Mayoral believes the company is now “trying to kick us out and [we] don’t know why.” Nolon said she was not familiar with Mayoral's specific claims, but that only service animals are allowed at the building. Tenants are not asked to pay back rent and the organization is not trying to convince tenants to leave, Nolon said.
Star Perez lives at the building with her mother, 3-year-old sister, and 8-month-old daughter. The two women paid $600 a month rent until the landlord informed them early this year that rent would more than double to $1,300 a month. Perez says she was working part time before having her daughter last summer and then began working again in the fall. She says the property management company told her and her mom the reason the rent would increase is because her income had gone up when she went back to work. But Perez says the rent hadn’t increased this much even when she was working before giving birth. She also says her mom lost her job earlier this year. After receiving notice to pay the increased rent or leave, Perez says she and her mom signed an agreement to leave the apartment at the end of the month.
“She will live in her car,” Perez said of her mother. “I found a job and a place for the short term. It’s not permanent.”
The two have searched for shelters and social services, and her mom has had trouble sleeping, Perez said. “It’s depressing. We’re basically homeless.”
Nolon said she was not familiar with Perez’s specific claims.
“We’re a mission-driven organization,” Nolon said. “We’re compassionate members of our community. We provide affordable housing and that’s what we live for. Unfortunately, people’s rent does have to go up from time to time. That’s not always a clean and easy process.”
Several tenants and activists with Washington Community Action Network gathered at the building Tuesday to deliver a notice of their own urging the company to stop "issuing unreasonable eviction notices and rent hikes." When they arrived at the office door, it was locked. As they spoke outside, someone inside the office quickly closed the blinds.
The group is asking the company to rescind the eviction notices and meet with tenants. Nolon said her company plans to meet with tenants.