Rent Strike: Facing eviction, tenants rally outside courthouse demanding repairs
Nearly a dozen D.C. tenants and community activists rallied against the uninhabitable conditions of their apartments in front of the D.C. Landlord and Tenant Court on Jan. 22.
The tenants began withholding rent in December over recurring complaints of mold, pests, and leaks. They were appearing in court that morning after their landlord, Urban Investment Partners (UIP) Property Management, served them with eviction notices last month. Since the strike began, a total of 11 tenants of the 101-unit property, 3435 Holmead Place, have joined the effort.
Alongside student activists from Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Center for Labor and the Working Poor and the Stomp Out Slumlords campaign, an initiative of a local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, the tenants held up signs that read “Rent Control For All” and “We Shall Not Be Moved.”
“Our goal is for all of our units to be repaired so we can live with dignity and for the whole building to be repaired and remodeled,” said Julia Flores, one of the tenants who helped coordinate the rent strike. “UIP is trying to humiliate us and divide us, and that’s why they’ve called us to court.”
In the time since the tenants brought their concerns to management, UIP has made only minimal repairs, Flores said. “They’re very diligent about collecting rent but not very diligent about making repairs,” she said.
Felipe Salvador, another tenant who is withholding his rent, described multiple issues with his apartment that made it uninhabitable, including a bathroom leak that has been ignored by management since November and decades-old heaters which no longer function.
In order to generate enough heat in the winter, Salvador said he had begun using his oven as a heater, in addition to a portable radiator.
When a repairman arrived to inspect the bathroom leak, he left a large hole in the ceiling and only made the situation worse, Salvador said in an interview. After that, other repairmen sent by UIP refused to work on the leak, telling Salvador that the issue was beyond the scope of their services.
After seeing that the company was not going to address the violations, Salvador decided to join the rent strike to force UIP to make the repairs.
“We’re fighting to be heard because UIP is not listening to us,” Salvador said. “We’re here as a group to fight and I know we’re going to win.”
Flores and Salvador both spoke in Spanish, with volunteer translators repeating their words in English.
Under the D.C. Tenant Bill of Rights, tenants are entitled to withhold rent if their landlords fail to address housing code violations. Specifically, landlords are responsible for “keeping the premises safe and secure and free of rodents and pests, keeping the structure and facilities of the building in good repair, and ensuring adequate heat, lighting, and ventilation.”
In the time since UIP became owners of the property in 2011, more than thirty property code-compliance complaints have been filed by residents, according to the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.