SEATTLE - UPDATE: The building owners have responded to the complaints made by tenants. You can read that response by clicking here.
For many residents of a South Seattle apartment complex, rats and roaches continue to infiltrate their homes while rents doubled on Oct. 1.
Broken windows, outlets, heaters, and bathroom fixtures are the norm at 6511 Rainier Avenue South, a complex that was recently sold to Columbia City Condos.
KIRO 7 looked inside two of the units, where tenants said they were previously afraid of speaking up, knowing that they were paying below-market rents.
Sahro Farah, a mother of five who works two jobs as a home care giver, received notice recently of her rent doubling from $550 to $1,150 within a matter of two months.
Farah said her children did not go to school today because they were afraid the inability to pay the new rent would force their mother out. They did not want to go to school and return to find no home.
“They say, ‘Mama, why you say America is good? Why you say America is nice house?’” Farah said, pointing out the mold, rat holes and roaches.
One floor below, Osman Osman said he had the advantage of being able to look up his rights online.
The city of Seattle requires 60 days’ notice if a landlord is going to raise rents 10 percent or more. Osman said he first received notice of an increase of $82 from August to September, but the notice assumed he was paying an existing $575 a month instead of the $550 listed on his lease. The increase calculated on the mistaken baseline rent would have meant a 9.91 percent increase, just narrowly dodging the 60-day requirement.
Now, his rent, like Farah’s, is $1,150 starting Oct. 1.
Osman filed a complaint with the Seattle Department of Planning and Development in late August, about the living conditions. DPD told KIRO 7 they inspected one unit in September due to a complaint and required the landlord to make fixes.
Osman said he then received a bill from the landlord for damages.
Afraid he cannot come up with the new rent, he said, “I have to look for a friend of mine to share with. A place better than this, so I can survive. “
A spokesperson for DPD said they are aware of the previous owner having a private inspector look at a different unit in July. That private inspector noted fixes that needed to be made and gave the building a “pass” under the Rental Registration and Inspection ordinance.
DPD will be following up with that private inspector, as well as looking into the several other complaints they received in recent days.
The new company’s registered agent is Carl Haglund, who has many other real estate companies in the area. A lawsuit brought forth by a disabled tenant at a different location was recently settled for $60,000.
The city council is considering a few pieces of housing legislation designed to help in cases like this. Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Nick Licata joined tenants Thursday to bring attention to their plight.
While the current city law requiring relocation assistance only applies to landlords or owners who state intent to remodel or rebuild units, an owner could avoid that by raising rents first to encourage tenants to leave before remodeling. A revision to this ordinance is going through the council.
Another proposed ordinance would require owners of below-market units like this one to inform the city before putting the building up for sale. This allows the city time to work with non-profits on buying the building and preserving affordable units.
A housing lawyer told KIRO 7 there would be nothing to stop a landlord from starting an eviction process. But tenants can argue in court that they do not owe the money due to unlivable conditions.