The new landlord was going to double the rent. These elderly people in Maryland decided to fight back.
“Humiliating,” said Joram Calderon, 74, who had been here for 26 years.
“Two days after Christmas to get this letter,” said Rose Thompson, 64, who had been here for 23 years.
On December 27, they had all found the same note stuck in their door. The building — two stories, 10 units, less than two miles from a bustling strip of chain stores and restaurants — had been sold, the newspaper said. The new owners promised interior renovations were coming soon — “granite countertops and stainless steel appliances, new bathrooms, parquet flooring renovations” and other upgrades, the letter says.
But the document also told tenants that if they decided to stay in a renovated unit, their rent would drop from $865 to $1,600. If one of the tenants could not pay the new rent, they had 60 days from the date of the letter to vacate their unit. Four tenants had already moved out. One unit was already empty. The five remaining tenants were now discussing their options in the late afternoon light. They had less than two weeks left.
“The newspaper originally said we were to be out on the 27th,” Pultz said.
“I told them that if I pay for February, I receive every day!” said Thompson. “Every 28 days.”
“Can they really make us leave after this time? Howard Wright, 75, asked a few moments later.
The five were struggling with a housing market that no longer seemed to have room for them. The average rent in Laurel had risen from just under $1,600 in February 2021 to nearly $1,800 in February 2022, according to real estate data firm Yardi Max. Across the country, average rents have risen 14%, according to Redfin – a reflection, experts say, of a housing shortage and an economy coming back to life as the latest wave of coronavirus infections wanes.
Pultz and his neighbors couldn’t afford those prices, and now they were wondering if they could plead with the new landlord or withhold their rent or even go to court – anything that might keep them up. Trent Leon-Lierman, a housing advocate with CASA Maryland, a community organizing group, joined the tenants that day to discuss their upcoming move.
“If this thing were to go to court, do you still get your bail back?” asked Pultz.
The housing advocate explained that the landlord can subtract the cost of repairs.
Even if they got the deposits back, the money wouldn’t go far in getting a new home. When Calderon moved in 27 years ago, the deposit was $300. Thompson had deposited $350 when he arrived 23 years ago. Wright’s deposit was $810. Robert Pendarvis, 63, wasn’t even sure – he had moved in with his sister, then taken over her tenancy when she died of covid-19 in early 2020.
“They should give us a lot more time to find a spot,” Wright said. “I’ve lived around Laurel all my life.”
Thompson nodded. “I am close to the cult. I am close to my family. My family has been here in this area for 150 years,” she said. “My mother’s family and my father’s family. If I move, you’re just pushing me away from it all.
The others accepted. But no one there could tell what the next step would bring. None of them had been involved in a rent strike before, discussed strategy with a housing organizer or sued a landlord.
” We do not want do not pay them,” Thompson said. “We just want grace.”
The next day, the other five tenants at 332 11th St. were crammed into the building’s basement. A meeting with the new owner, Cameron Manesh, had just ended. The outlines of a compromise were taking shape, but the tenants were now wondering if this was not even wishful thinking.
The owner had offered to lower their rent at $1,350. While still out of reach for the five seniors, the city of Laurel said it may be able to provide $350 a month for each tenant for a year with funds from the America Rescue Plan Act. . Laurel City Council member Martin Mitchell was working with the city to secure the funding. Still, the money might not materialize, and if it did, the support payments would only last for a year.
Meanwhile, Manesh had also offered $1,000 to anyone interested in moving. He had given to tenants until the end of March to decide.
“I want us all to be on the same page,” CASA’s Leon-Lierman told the group. “Janette, what are you thinking right now?” If everyone wants to stay, you’re the only one thinking about taking the money and leaving.
“I want to tell you everything right now,” Pultz said. “I received a call this morning. I was accepted at Selborne House.
Some of the others had said they too had tried to get into Selborne, one of the few affordable seniors’ residences nearby, but none had been accepted.
“I’m leaving,” Pultz said. “I hate doing it! »
“You have to do what’s best for you,” Thompson said.
“With Janette gone, the amount of money we need from the city is about $15,000,” Leon-Lierman said. “So for you four, do you want to stick together and keep fighting? With ‘the request’ being can you stay here? If so, I’ll call the mayor and try to arrange a meeting.
“It’s bigger than the apartments at 332 11th Street,” Thompson said. “It’s about the needs of the people who live in these places. When companies come in and buy, when they renovate and make it “brand new” and raise prices, people have nowhere to go. »
“There’s something else you all have to worry about too,” Pendarvis said. “An eviction is like a bad credit score if you go to court.”
“I don’t want to go to court,” Wright said.
“But listen,” Pendarvis continued. “I have to be realistic. I’m 63 and I’m behind on my rent. I’ll probably go anyway.
“No, no,” Leon-Lierman said. “We are watching over you.”
“I just don’t want to be homeless, man,” Pendarvis said.
No one spoke for a few seconds, then Thompson replied, “You’re not going to be homeless.”
The 11th Street building was one of four properties Manesh bought in four months, he said in an interview. “I was an apartment broker for 20 years. But owning was a new thing. You learn by buying.
What Manesh had learned so far was that real estate was often a game of winners and losers.
“I realized, ‘Whoa, some of these people have nowhere to go, and can’t get to Section 8 because there’s a one-year waiting list,'” he said. said, referring to the federal housing subsidy program, “I don’t want anyone to lose their home.”
In addition to his Potomac-based real estate business, Manesh also owns Cameron’s Seafood, a well-known distributor of fresh crabs and other seafood. he could understand: Manesh’s mother had been forced out of her home in a similar situation years ago.
“I have a waiting list for people willing to pay $1,600 or $1,700 for these units, but at some point you have to make a moral decision,” he said.
By early March, Mitchell, the council member, had secured the necessary funding from the city. Each tenant would sign a one-year lease and pay $1,000 per month. Laurel would pay $350 per unit each month, for a total monthly rent of $1,350. Manesh would still be able to charge market rent for the rest of the units.
“It was a pretty small win…we should celebrate it,” Mitchell said. “But it was short term. What are we going to do in the longer term?
Leon-Lierman returned to the building a few days later. The new building manager also came. She gave copies of the new rental agreements to sign to each of the four tenants. They leafed through the pages before taking them home to sign.
“Security deposits that have been paid previously are credited there,” the property manager said.
“I’m relieved,” Calderon said. “My whole life has stopped on this situation.”
” Do you have any questions ? said Leon-Lierman.
“If we find accommodation before the end of this lease, will we be penalized? Thompson asked.
“Yes ma’am,” said the facility manager. “That would be considered a breach of lease.”
“They say we’ll have to fulfill our contract for the year,” Wright said.
“The other thing is that this lease ends in February, so we’re back and potentially have to move in the middle of winter,” Thompson said.
“So we’ll all have to figure something out long before that,” Wright said.
Now they had a year to find new homes.