March on the slumlord: Portland Solidarity Network brings community together to stand up to landlords

Miranda has decided enough is enough and is joining with the Portland Solidarity Network to demand the money she is owed from her former landlord.

Submitted by Eviction Free Zone on August 27, 2014

There is a point at which everyone breaks, and Miranda has already exceeded it. Living on a limited income and with pets that she could never abandon, Miranda moved into her former apartment with some reservations. There was clear damage inside, all of which she was repeatedly reassured that it would be taken care of quickly. When she was given a pile of documents to sign no red flags came up from her new landlord, Kurt, telling her that she was signing in agreement with a walk-through that had never happened.

Over the subsequent three years the decay in the apartment hit a fever pitch, a problem that rested entirely on their shoulders. Their property manager, whose erratic behavior and drug use made common notifications next to impossible, ignored their requests for repairs regularly. The water heater became a central problem, and instead of seeking professional repairs or replacements the landlord sent his son into her apartment to drain it with a hose through the window. This did not put an end to the mechanical trouble as it continued to keep the water at a boiling temperature, which shot her utility bills up hundreds of dollars. Her final solution was to manually shut off the water heater at the circuit breaker whenever it was not in use, which means that anytime showers needed to happen the roommates had to come together in a sequence or forgo hot water entirely. After two years the pipes began failing and leaking rust-stained water into her home, and the housemates eventually had to do their dishes in the bathtub because of the malfunctioning fixtures in the kitchen.

“I paid him over $23,000(in rent) over three years, and he never would fix anything,” said Miranda.“

Miranda’s requests for repairs had become a regular cycle, with Kurt either outright ignoring her or pacifying her for the moment. She eventually confronted him at his door, filming him to keep a record of the systemic abuses she was seeing in this relationship. Instead of living up to his commitment, he slammed the door in her face. Shortly there after she got a text message saying that she had thirty days to get out. An eviction deriving directly from her simple requests to have her apartment brought up to basic living standards.
Though the eviction was in clear violation of local tenant laws, Miranda conceded and even moved out ahead of the eviction date. When she attempted to get Kurt to do the walk through in the apartment with her so that she could document that she had made no damages, he refused and angrily slammed the door in her face.

Does this story sound familiar? It does to most of us, as this type of “slumlord” tenant exploitation is commonplace for young people and those on lower-income scales. Landlords use tenant’s security deposits, which are legally required to be put into a bank account and saved, without giving just cause as to what it is really for. Thirty-day no-cause eviction is commonplace in most states, and in Oregon it is one of the main things that allow people like Kurt the freedom to create a pattern of fear around his tenants. Miranda was clearly excised from the property for having the audacity to hold Kurt to his end of the agreement, and that was just unbearable for him. He decided to keep her security deposit, citing damage to the unit that was there long before Miranda had set foot inside. He is also charging an additional $700 for damages that no one can seem to identify, but, as Kurt knows full well, most tenants will just pay the amount rather than go through the arduous legal process that is stacked in favor of the property-owner.

Miranda is going for a third option.

She, along with the Portland Solidarity Network, has decided to fight back with community support. The Portland Solidarity Network was formed several years ago, working on a model popularized by organizations like the Seattle Solidarity Network. The foundation of this is simple: create tangible goals and demands and then use escalating tactics to put pressure on a target. Whether these are wage-theft cases or security deposit related campaigns, the goal here is to see the exploiter relinquish what is owed based on the community pressure.

On August 10th, Miranda led a group of community supporters and PDXSol organizer in a “march on the slumlord,” to Kurt’s residence to deliver her demands. Miranda had been by there a little while earlier to simply discuss the charges, an episode that was met by Kurt’s abusive rage. He eventually called the police on her, which prevented her from ever setting foot back on that property. She remained stationary on the sidewalk as the rest of the group descended the long driveway to Kurt’s door. Miranda’s mother came armed with the demand letter, which she planned to read aloud whether or not Kurt decided to let her in.

“It has come to our attention that Miranda Rivamonte, a former tenant of Patia's Corner Apartments, was given a thirty-day notice to vacate on May 15th, 2014 in response to her repeated requests to property manager Kurt Albright for necessary repairs to her apartment's plumbing,” she read out loud.

“Ms. Rivamonte vacated the premises on May 22nd, 2014, leaving only pre-existing damages and those incurred by normal wear-and-tear over the three years of her tenancy. However, property manager Kurt Albright refused to perform a walkthrough when asked at this time, and subsequently, Albright Enterprises saw fit to withhold the entirety of Ms. Rivamonte's refundable security deposit ($600.00), failed to refund her rent for the period of May 23rd through May 31st (nine-days at $21.67 equaling $195.03), and proceeded to demand an additional $719.05 in scurrilous charges.”

“Furthermore, Ms. Rivamonte’s water heater was never fully repaired over the course of her three years of tenancy, despite repeated requests for this to occur. As a result, Ms. Rivamonte endured increased utility bills estimated at approximately $400.00. We see it as your responsibility to ensure that this situation be resolved by Albright Enterprises dropping all claims of damages for her apartment and that she be reimbursed for her security deposit, back rent for the period of May after she vacated the apartment, and the utility costs incurred as a result of the negligence of her property manager, totaling $1,195.03.”
“We expect this to be addressed shortly, within a period of no more than fourteen-days; otherwise we will take further action.”

This has been a familiar campaign stop for those utilizing the Solidarity Network model around the country. Popularized by the Seattle Solidarity Network, this model has conventionally taken on fights such as tenant issues and wage-theft cases. The goal is to utilize direct action and an “escalation plan” model of organizing, where by very material demands are put together and a target has pressure put on them through community action in a consistently increasing fashion. This often takes the form of confronting former bosses about unpaid wages, past property management companies around stolen security deposits, and a variety of new possible projects coming out of the missed gaps in organized labor and housing activism. This has spread to places like Houston, Boston, Olympia, and San Francisco, as people try to target fights that are very based in the material realities of everyday life, but have also often been neglected by the more established left movements of the area. The Portland Solidarity Network has been at this for several years now, having taken on many high profile housing and labor fights in recent years. This has evolved into an established place for dealing with low-wage worker issues in the area, often partnering with the VOZ Worker’s Center and the Portland Jobs With Justice chapter.

Miranda had come in contact with the Portland Solidarity Network after they had established a committee and meeting space in the outer eastside of Portland, which has a lower income base than the more affluent inner city. Together they worked on an escalation plan and developed a long-term strategy for how to see this campaign through.

After the demand delivery it was discovered that Kurt had actually returned to prison, leaving the property up to a new management company and other members of the family. Miranda and the Portland Solidarity Network are continuing to the next stages of the escalation campaign, moving out to the rest of the controlling parties and letting them know that this groundswell of support and action is nowhere close to peaking.

“I think because all of us have felt this kind of thing at one time or another,” Miranda said to a crowd of supporters. “We felt just pretty much helpless and stuck by someone in a higher position than you. So I just think its really cool that we can flip it on this guy and tell him ‘hey, we’ve got the power, not you.’”