Last month, my office was contacted by a group of tenants in South Seattle whose landlord, the notorious slumlord Carl Haglund, was doubling their rents, despite truly appalling living conditions.
This was a brazen attempt by Haglund to conduct building-wide economic evictions.
After meeting with tenants to see the apartment building, my office joined with the Tenants Union of Washington State, Councilmember Licata, and housing justice activists to help organize the building’s tenants into their own 6511 Rainier Avenue South Tenant Association.
Together, we brought the community out, and rallied with the tenants. In the wake of our first rally, the Department of Planning and Development investigated the building, and discovered an astounding 225 housing code violations.
This discovery proved without a doubt that the units in question were hazardous to human life. Some days after the tenant action, Councilmember Licata and I put forward the Carl Haglund ordinance, which, if passed, would make any rent increases illegal if a landlord has pending housing code violations. While this is a common sense law, we have to be prepared for the real estate lobby to fight it, both publicly and behind closed doors. We need to keep strengthening our grassroots movement to ensure that the Carl Haglund ordinance is passed by the Seattle City Council this year.
But it doesn’t end there.
This campaign has also served as a stark reminder that tenant protection laws are effective only to the extent that tenants are informed of their rights, are aware of their legal recourses, and understand how to report violations. It is also necessary for tenants to know how to get organized, both to prevent retaliation from landlords and to help each other ensure that laws enforced.
Tenants shouldn’t be forced to the very brink by exploitative landlords and slumlords before they are informed of their rights, most importantly their right to organize.
With this in mind, I have introduced an amendment to the 2016 budget to double the funding available for organizations like the Tenants Union of Washington – organizations that provide outreach, education, and organizational assistance to tenants.
This funding is absolutely vital, and I urge you to join me in calling on other Councilmembers to support budget action 141-1-a-1 (contact details below).
We need to form more tenants union chapters all over the city. We need to fight violations, wherever they’re occurring. We need to win rent control, for both tenants and small businesses. And we need to continue to unite our struggles with other social, racial and economic justice movements.
But the very first step is for tenants to get educated and organized.
Contact Councilmembers, and ask them to support budget action 141-1-a-1 allocating funding for tenants’ rights organizations: