On any other Valentine's Day, Bruce Charles would be taking his partner, Patricia Bognar, out for dinner and a movie. But this Valentine's, the couple will be busy moving to a new apartment—just 15 days after being simultaneously fired and evicted by Norris & Stevens, the new management company for the apartment building where they lived and worked.
To Charles and Bognar, the reality of the situation is crushing: They had to scramble to find a new apartment on short notice, and are now moving from the one-bedroom apartment they've called home for 15 years to a studio. They had to donate a lot of their possessions, and Charles says he's suffering from anxiety and lack of sleep.
The couple worked for Park Terrace Apartments on SW Park in different capacities, as assistant managers or in maintenance, for about nine years. In that time, they'd seen the apartment through the death of the original owner and several property management companies. They say they had never had any problems with the other companies until Norris & Stevens took over in late 2006.
Other tenants complained about sudden and steep rent increases—one tenant's rent reportedly went up by $300 in one month. Shaunae Petchel, who moved out late last year, wrote in a letter shortly after she moved that Norris & Stevens' new property manager "has no respect for the tenants or consideration for their rights, and will not hesitate to make grossly unfounded accusations," including an alleged accusation of vandalism against her husband, a bank manager.
"I'm 55 years old, I've seen a lot of stuff," says Charles. "But this... this is over the top. This group is just ruthless."
On Wednesday, January 30, Charles met with Scott Peterson, asset manager for Norris & Stevens. By that time Charles had noticed unease in the building thanks to the rent increases, and the eviction of a maintenance man. "I felt the tension but I kept it under my bonnet," Charles says. "I wasn't going to jump on a soap box."
Then Peterson handed him a letter that informed him that he was fired and evicted—and had to be out in two weeks. Charles says he got upset, said "Fuck you!" and stood up to leave. According to Charles, Peterson blocked the doorway and ordered him to sit down, and there was some shoulder shoving between the two men. After the incident, Peterson called the police. According to the police report, there were no injuries, so no further action was taken. Peterson refused to comment on the incident.
According to Oregon Revised Statute 91.120, "An employee... may only be evicted... after at least 24 hours written notice of the termination of employment or a notice period set forth in a written employment contract, whichever is longer." Norris & Stevens terminated Charles and Bognar in the first paragraph of the letter and evicted them in the second paragraph.
Norris & Stevens Vice President David Keys chalks this discrepancy up to a difference of interpretation. "If I'm proven wrong, I'll change our operation policy, but I don't believe we're operating improperly," he said.
In response to tenants' other allegations, Keys says, "What we're trying to do is make the property perform for the new ownership of the building. The rents were severely and grossly under market and had been for many years. If anything, the tenants had been receiving a subsidized rent for years."