The rent strike's still on.
On August 1, nearly two dozen residents of a Southeast Portland apartment complex announced—both to their brand-new landlord and to the public—that they wouldn't be paying that month's rent until their unsafe living conditions were dealt with. Residents of the Holgate Manor complex said their apartments have been plagued with mold and animal infestations, and that complaints to their new management company have been ignored, all while their rents continue to rise.
That rent strike has now rolled into September. According to tenants, their living conditions have only slightly improved, even as new construction on the property has turned their community into a "warzone."
"The climate had been uncomfortable, at best," says Sara Brassfield, a Holgate Manor tenant. Despite several requests to meet with the building's management company, Princeton Property Management, Brassfield says residents been largely left in the dark by management. Meanwhile, Brassfield says, Princeton has hired a private security guard to patrol the premises and protect Princeton staff from "protesters."
Princeton hasn't gone as far as issuing eviction notices to striking tenants—yet.
This is only the latest development in residents' attempt to negotiate with their landlord. Holgate Manor was purchased in February by an out-of-state landlord named Fred Kleinbub, who tasked Princeton with on-site management. As soon as the purchase was finalized, Holgate Manor tenants were told that new renovations would force all tenants to relocate. If they wanted to return, tenants would have to reapply through Princeton and prove that they could afford a 9.9 percent rent increase. (Yep, that's 0.1 percent below the amount that would force Kleinbub to comply with Portland's relocation ordinance rules.) Kleinbub also dangled a temporary offer of $5,200 in moving costs to tenants who agreed to leave immediately, a decision tenants' rights advocates say pushed Holgate Manor tenants to move before they fully understood their rights.
"They didn't know that they didn't have to move," says Margot Black, a spokesperson for Portland Tenant's United (PTU). "It was a trick notice."
According to Princeton spokesperson Jill Eliand, 23 tenants took advantage of that "voluntary relocation program." The offer expired on July 31.
While tenants are withholding rent from Princeton, they aren't technically shirking their rent duties. Instead, tenants have dropped their rent checks into an escrow account managed by a lawyer, setting aside the funds to be used if a court case results in renters having to pay their skipped rent. Lawyers for both Princeton and the tenants are still in the midst of hashing out a resolution to the strike.
In a media statement sent this afternoon, Eliand rebuffed the remaining tenants' complaints—instead suggesting that tenants' habitability complaints have all been answered.
"We met with each resident individually who requested our time and attention, and we continue to make ourselves available to hear their concerns," Eliand said. "The owner has invested in new roofs, interior updates, energy efficient windows, new appliances, and landscaping."
Eliand also briefly mentioned the strike: "We are currently working directly and efficiently with the four residents who are withholding rent to respond to their unique circumstances, and we are collaborating with the City of Portland to remedy any issues that are highlighted."
Editor's Note 9/7: In an email sent to the Mercury, PTU says there are, in fact, a total of eight households currently withholding rent.
While it's unclear if Princeton's statement reflects any changes in the property management company's legal strategy, it likely won't shake the residents' commitment to the strike.
"We are sticking together," says Brassfield. "If anything, the amount of visibility and support we're getting will show other tenants that they have rights too. That they can be just as vigilant for justice."