The Old Testament has a passage about the year of jubilee — every 50 years, debts are to be forgiven. The husband and wife owners of the Lunde Apartments in Greenwood have been cutting back and saving up for the past year to give their tenants a rent-free month.
Husband and wife Kory Slaatthaug and Mickey Bambrick are landlords. For the past half-century, Slaatthaug’s family has owned a small apartment building in Greenwood named for the Norwegian town where Kory’s father grew up.
They’re also devout Pentecostal Christians. When Slaatthaug, a 74-year-old retired carpenter, does repairs at the building, he drives there in a Jeep with a 4-foot-tall Bible on top.
The Old Testament has a passage about the year of jubilee — every 50 years, debts are to be forgiven.
So Slaatthaug and Bambrick are celebrating the family’s 50 years as property owners by doing something unheard of for a landlord: For the month of November, everyone in the 11-unit building goes rent-free.
No catch. Just take the month off from paying rent.
They’ve been planning the gift for a year, scrimping and saving along the way to make the money work. Bambrick didn’t want to reveal how much is involved. But based on the number of units and the usual rents, it’s safe to say the gift cost them in excess of $15,000.
“It’s a big chunk of change we’re missing out on. It’s a big hit,” said Bambrick, 61.
The bills, of course, take no jubilee. In addition to property taxes that run $1,400 a month, they still have to pay the bank for a second mortgage they took out to upgrade the complex, plus bills they pay for water, sewer, garbage, and all of their own personal expenses.
Slaatthaug certainly has a different philosophy about money than your standard capitalist. He said he views money and all other possessions as being borrowed from God for his use while he’s alive. “I’m not taking anything with me,” he said.
About once a week, he said, they get an offer to sell the property and cash in on Seattle’s gold rush. He said he told one of the real-estate agents about his rent-free plan recently and they were aghast.
“There’s a term, oh, what is it called …” he said while on the phone recently; his wife, the money manager, yelled out “cap rate” — the estimated return on a real estate investment. He continued: “It doesn’t pencil out on cap rate very well.”
Earlier this month they surprised their tenants with a rent notice slipped under the door — typically a dreaded thing for a renter to find. Then, before the tenants could react in person, the couple immediately headed off to California to help a widowed friend repair her house.
We’re not into the numbers; we’re into creating a home for people.” - Mickey Bambrick, landlord
Bambrick already gives welcome baskets to renters when they move in. Every Valentine’s Day, her tenants get a box of chocolates. Each Easter, a basket. Each Halloween, a trick-or-treat candy bag. Each Christmas, another basket. Even some former tenants continue to receive Christmas cards.
“There are a lot of longtime residents who feel the same way as we do about Kory and Mickey: They’re like family,” tenant Eric Staples said. “Kory is always around tinkering and improving the apartment and talking with the tenants.”
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They already rent out the apartments a bit below market rate. Large one-bedrooms run from $1,100 to $1,400, with parking, water, sewer and garbage included.
They’ve had tenants stay until they die; some as long as 26 years.
“We’re not into the numbers; we’re into creating a home for people,” Bambrick said. “I was a renter for 23 years, and I think renters kind of get treated like crap. And turning into a landlord made me realize, this is their home, and they need love and respect.”
The couple didn’t publicize their gift. Staples posted the letter he received from the landlords on the social-media site Reddit, where it was “upvoted,” or liked, 36,000 times. (And yes, before you ask, someone on the site made the joke about the couple putting the “lord” in “landlord.”)
“I don’t know anything about Reddit, but I guess it came out, and was a big deal,” Slaatthaug said with a shrug.
The Lunde Apartments (pronounced Loon-da) on North Greenwood Circle opened in November 1968, shortly after Slaatthaug’s father died of a heart attack while building it. Kory Slaatthaug then became a carpenter to help finish construction and save his mother from defaulting on the construction loan they had taken out to build the complex. It was a particularly challenging time for a landlord to keep the lights on since the building opened right as the Boeing bust sent people flooding out of the city.
When his mother died in 1992, the building was left to Kory and his brothers, and Kory and Mickey bought out the siblings’ stake. They live in a house in Mount Vernon, where Slaatthaug volunteers helping the homeless, delivering them items in his Bible Jeep.
The jubilee-year reference that inspired the gift comes from Leviticus 25. It describes a process whereby slaves would be freed and debts would be forgiven every 50 years in ancient Israel.
“You shall make the fiftieth year holy, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants,” it reads. “It shall be a jubilee to you; and each of you shall return to his own property, and each of you shall return to his family.”
Slaatthaug, who describes himself as “a little bit of a radical Christian,” made the modern interpretation to free his tenants of rent payments for a month, figuring it would be “a good way to honor both my heavenly father and my earthly father” who first helped built the apartments.
The couple also encouraged tenants to contribute one-tenth of the savings to charity. At least one plans to do so.
It’s unclear if anyone has done this before. Some apartment owners offer a free month’s rent up front, but not out of the goodness of their hearts: Those are carrots to get people to sign long-term leases, and aren’t for existing tenants. And usually those deals are dangled at big new projects owned by investors that have to fill a bunch of units all at once, typically at rents far above the neighborhood average.
Their only son, 19-year-old Kaleb, whom they home-schooled, is at college. They don’t know whether he’ll take on the family business one day, which Kory said would be poetic given how he had the building passed down from his parents.
“Our building isn’t about getting as much money out of it as it is for making a nice place for people to live,” Slaatthaug said.