Seattle City Council member stood alongside tenants of Carl Haglund in 2015 to announce a law barring rent increases at substandard buildings.
Seattle City Council member stood alongside tenants of Carl Haglund in 2015 to announce a law barring rent increases at substandard buildings. City of Seattle

Landlord Carl Haglund has dismissed his case against the City of Seattle and Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant after initially claiming city officials defamed him, hurt his business, and should pay him $25 million.

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Haglund earned widespread media coverage back in 2015, when he raised rents on a southeast Seattle apartment building despite tenants living with rats, roaches, and broken heat. After tenants in the building began organizing, Sawant introduced a law to bar rent increases at buildings with such code violations. In the process of advocating for that law, Sawant called Haglund a "slumlord" and named the policy the "Carl Haglund law."

In his case, Haglund claimed the city and Sawant illegally used his name, defamed him, discriminated against him, and inflicted emotional distress. He also claimed the city violated his federal Constitutional rights to privacy, due process, and equal protection. Due to those claims, the case was moved to U.S. District Court.

Last month, the city won a partial victory in the case when a federal judge ruled against Haglund in four of his nine claims. While Haglund claimed that Sawant and the city interfered with his business as a landlord and developer, the judge found Haglund had failed to prove he lost any profits or incurred any other harms to his business. Haglund also argued that Sawant "appropriated" his name and identity, violating his rights, but the judge found that Sawant's publicizing of his name and the conditions at the apartments were matters of public interest. The court had not yet ruled on several other claims from Haglund, including defamation.

After the decision, the city submitted more than two dozen declarations from Haglund tenants and housing advocates attempting to make the case that Haglund is, in fact, a slumlord.

Michele Thomas, a housing advocate who previously worked as a community organizer at the Tenants Union, submitted a declaration saying Haglund was "very well known" among staff at the TU because the organization received "many" tenant complaints about Haglund. Thomas described past campaigns dating back to 2004 against Haglund at other buildings he owned.

"Based on my experience at the Tenants Union, I came to believe that Mr. Haglund purchases apartment buildings that are predominantly occupied by immigrants, refugees, and people of color because he believes these tenants could have a lot to lose if they challenge him," Thomas wrote. Later, she added, "Mr. Haglund is a slumlord."

Sahro Farah, a tenant at the Haglund building in southeast Seattle, wrote in a declaration that before Haglund purchased the building, the apartments had issues like defective heaters. The previous landlord would provide a space heater, Farah wrote. “Because the rents at Charles Street were cheap, we expected there to be some problems, and we tenants did not complain.” Then, Haglund purchased the building and raised the rent for her two-bedroom apartment from $550 to $1,200. In light of the rent increases, she and other tenants sought repairs. “Haglund said he would not fix it and I needed to move out anyway, that this place was not for immigrant people and he wanted Amazon people there,” Farah wrote.

Another tenant, Osman Osman, wrote that he is 35 years old and "in all my life I have never lived in conditions like we had at 6511 [Rainier Avenue South] and I have never been treated the way Haglund treated me and the other tenants."

Sawant also submitted a declaration in which she recounted tenants contacting her about Haglund. When she toured the building at 6511 Rainier Avenue South, known as the Charles Street Apartments building, she found tenants living in "appalling conditions" and "considered this to be an urgent matter."

Sawant's declaration also includes a damning email from a former city employee who at the time worked for the city's construction and inspections department but wrote to the council member from his personal email. "I write to you as a private citizen, but one who has struggled as a city employee to enforce tenant protections for over 14 years," wrote the employee, James Metz.

Metz called Haglund a "notorious slumlord" and outlined the way a building with severe housing code violations can still pass the city's inspection program. (The program does not require every apartment in a building to be inspected.) He also called Haglund a "brutal, intimidating landlord who observes no ethical boundaries." He wrote that he feared tenants complaining about the conditions "will all indeed suffer some form of retaliation at the hands of Mr. Haglund."

The week after the city submitted those declarations, Haglund's lawyer filed a motion to dismiss the final claims. He could still appeal the judge's earlier decision.

Brad Anderson, the attorney representing Haglund, said in an email, "We are disappointed" at the judge's earlier dismissal of Haglund's claims. "Still convinced city officials abused their powers," Anderson wrote, "Mr. Haglund is contemplating next steps, which could include an appeal of the judge's dismissal. Mr. Haglund therefore decided not to pursue the ancillary claims and still hopes he can someday present his case to a jury."

In a statement, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes called the motion to dismiss "a victory for free speech and for the right of every person to speak their mind."

"Elected representatives must be able to zealously advocate for policy proposals in service of their constituents," Holmes said, "regardless of whether others may agree with the tone or substance of their statements."

Sawant was not guaranteed city help defending against Haglund's claim. That decision was up to Seattle City Council President Bruce Harrell as head of the city's legislative department, which includes the council. The Seattle Times reported in mid-May that outside counsel to help the city defend Sawant against Haglund had cost about $259,000.

Sawant faces another separate claim that she defamed two police officers when she called Che Taylor’s death a “brutal murder” involving “racial profiling.”