The building is in a bad state of disrepair, yet tenants say their new landlord gave this ultimatum: Sign new leases with higher rents or get out.
Two Seattle City Council members say the situation at one South Seattle apartment building is emblematic of displacement and gentrification occurring throughout the city.
Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Nick Licata say landlords eager to take advantage of the hot housing market are increasing rents to push low-income tenants out.
Some are also allowing their buildings to fall into disrepair, the council members say, pointing to apartments beset with mold, broken appliances and pest infestations.
“This is absolutely unacceptable,” Sawant said Thursday, during a visit to the building she and Licata hope will draw attention to the issue. “This is Seattle. We have billionaires coming out of our ears in this city, yet we have people living in such terrible conditions.”
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Sahro Farah and her neighbors say their landlord gave them an ultimatum after buying 6511 Rainier Ave. S. this summer: Sign new leases with higher rents or get out.
She says the rent for the two-bedroom apartment she shares with her five children was scheduled to increase Thursday from $550 a month to $1,550.
The 31-year-old home-health aide isn’t happy; her unit has stained carpets, peeling paint, cockroach clusters and a hole in the ceiling above the shower.
“My stove isn’t working. My heat isn’t working. My windows aren’t working,” Farah said. “But now we’re going to be homeless.”
Her neighbors say their rents are increasing by various amounts. Some were packing up to leave Thursday. They were joined by the council members and representatives from community groups. Most if not all are East African immigrants.
“They told me, ‘If you don’t want to pay, just get out,’ ” said Mohammed Arabi, a 55-year-old nursing-home worker. “Maybe they want to demolish the building and rebuild.”
The three-story, 18-unit structure was sold to 6511 Rainier LLC in July, according to King County records. The company’s registered agent is Carl Haglund, state records show.
Haglund referred a request for comment to Roger Valdez, executive director of Smart Growth Seattle, an advocacy organization for developers.
Valdez said Haglund isn’t to blame because he bought the building from an owner who had allowed it to deteriorate.
“Carl’s going to make improvements, but in order to make improvements he needs money and the money has to come from somewhere, from rents,” Valdez said, suggesting the council members should allocate money for repairs if they want to keep the rents down.
He accused Sawant and Licata of “narrative malpractice.”
Sawant and Licata support legislation to allow the city to penalize landlords found to have used rent increases in order to evict tenants without providing relocation assistance. The bill has been under consideration for several months.
The council members also want the city to get more involved in policing housing conditions. Wendy Shark, a spokeswoman with the city’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD), said the agency is working with the building’s tenants and owner.
DPD investigated one unit at 6511 Rainier Ave. S. last month based on a tenant complaint, Shark said.
“We found a number of violations of the housing code, including evidence of rodents, missing smoke detector, and improperly maintained kitchen and bathroom fixtures,” she said. “We required correction of the conditions and verified that the owner has made the corrections.”
She added: “In the last several days, we have received additional complaints from renters in this property. … We will inspect as many units as possible and require any violations be corrected by the landlord.”
Shark said DPD recently received a separate complaint about rent increases.
“We informed the property owner of his obligations under the Rental Agreement Regulation Ordinance but are not able to prevent the rent increase,” she said.
State law bans cities from imposing rent regulations on property owners in most cases. Sawant and Licata were among council members who voted last month for a resolution asking the Legislature to repeal that ban.
Information in this article, originally published Oct. 1, 2015, was corrected Oct. 6, 2015. A previous version of this story misstated the number of bedrooms in Sahro Farah’s apartment.