Tenants claim ‘economic evictions’ by Capitol Hill building’s new owner

The Celeste was originally known The Allen (Image: King County)

The Celeste was originally known The Allen (Image: King County)

Residents of a 109-year-old Capitol Hill apartment building are planning to form a tenants association in response to a new owner they say has been unfairly raising rents in order to force people out so the building can be renovated unit by unit.

The issue has attracted the attention of Seattle City Council member and District 3 candidate Kshama Sawant who cited the 1906-built Celeste Apartments as an example of why Seattle needs to pass strong tenant’s rights legislation that would limit “slumlord” rent increases.

According to county records, the Project S7 company owned by real estate developer George Webb purchased the 304 E Olive Pl building for $2.4 million in June.

Breckenridge Lanning, a tenant in the building since 2013, says that is when problems started.

Images provided by Lanning he says show conditions inside the old building

Tenants who were renting month-to-month were faced with nearly $500 a month rent increases, according to Lanning. When they moved out, Lanning said, the building owner began renovations of the units.

“The sanitation of the entire building is awful. Nails in the hallway, jumper cables, dirt every where,” he said. “They’re finding every way to make it as uncomfortable as possible without saying you cant rent here.”

Planning department paperwork shows that early permitting work has been filed for three more basement-level apartments to the 15-unit building.Site Plan (54)

Webb’s Stratford Company is the owner and developer of apartment projects across Seattle. It also manages buildings including the Melrose on the Hill at 1620 Melrose which it purchased in 2006 for $4.5 million before flipping ownership of the building to the Diamond Parking company for $10 million in late 2014. The company also owned the project to redevelop the site of the old Marion Apartments at Pine and Bellevue before the completed six-story apartment building was sold to national apartment developer Equity Residential for $36.1 million in spring of 2014.

A representative from Stratford said the company would not comment on the E Olive Pl situation. The building does not show any records of complaints at the county level and a land use complaint made to the City of Seattle in April was resolved as “no violation.”

If tenants leave a building on their own volition, landlords are not required to offer tenant relocation assistance. In her bid to represent District 3, Sawant has called for legislation to prevent “economic evictions” that landlords use to avoid paying relocation assistance. Sawant and outgoing Council member Nick Licata have also announced a measure this week that would prevent landlords from raising rents by 10% or more on units that have unaddressed housing code violations.

Lanning says “getting any and every benefit (fiscal or otherwise) that we are owed due to this unfortunate situation” is only part of the goal of organizing. The tenant said he also wants to warn people about the Stratford Company and “bring a awareness to the housing crisis and the unfair treatment of those who cannot afford the escalating rent in the city.”

Lanning is renting his 1.5 bedroom unit for $1,195 a month, a rent he says he knows is a good deal. While Lanning said he wants to leave the building, he said he was told he would incur a $1,000 fee for breaking the lease.

“We all want to get out in a way that’s affordable for us,” he said.

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29 thoughts on “Tenants claim ‘economic evictions’ by Capitol Hill building’s new owner

  1. I lived in this building until July of this year. Our rent went up $640 over night. The new owners were rude when I called to discuss the increase, and told me that the rents we were paying were ridiculous (meaning we weren’t being charged enough) and that we were lucky to have lived there as long as we did. She also cited market research for the amount of the rent increase. When I asked if they were going to be returning our $200 non-refundable cleaning fee due to renovating the unit, she said they wouldn’t be renovating that fast. She said they would clean it up a bit and rent it out until they were ready for demolition. Stafford lied. Our unit was demo’d like the picture above. They also didn’t return our deposit until we had called and emailed them several times. When we did receive it, it was well past the 14th of August. I loved living in that building, it’s sad that when it was sold it went to a bunch of assholes.

    • Same here I asked for my deposit back constantly with little to no response. When I finally got a response of sorry you don’t have your money back but it’s sitting with Bills.com, which was over two weeks late. They are lucky we all did not take the to court were we could have gotten double back.

      Also not having working IW, an entrance where the intercom was ripped out by a crack head with 2 codes to even get in the building, and washer / dryers in the basement that only one works isn’t work 1600 a month.

  2. Month-to-month is dangerous. Everyone knows that. And one of the risks is exactly this: rent going up a lot overnight. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with renovating a unit when a tenant moves out. In case they want you out all you should expect is due notice, giving you enough of a warning. The city can’t go around crippling companies willing to invest in and upgrade our neighborhood. But specific violations like construction material in the hallways should be discouraged.

    • Well, so you know Peterson Properties would not renew leases as they said never to worry about anything like this to happen. I loved living there (2009), but it went way downhill once another renting company took over, they also would not renew leases as they knew the building would be sold. I also understand that our rent was below market but, they also were not maintained. I personally had two rooms that the ceiling was caving in which I asked to get fixed for many years.

      I will not bash Peterson Properties but I will bash Stratford Company for kicking all of us out. ( a 600+ a month increase should not be acceptable.)

    • Yes but what if your landlord doesn’t allow you to renew after your lease is up? They’re basically placing you in a holding pattern that allows them to jack up your rents overnight. Tenants should be allowed to renew leases at the end of their current term, or receive a 60-90 days notice of rent increases.

  3. I lived in the Celeste for over a year and left September 1st when my rent went up from 1050 per month to 1600 per month with a 95 dollar monthly utilities fee (though nothing had changed including never installing a composting solution despite the city mandate, we just kep throwing our food waste in the trash). When I moved out a month and a half ago there were only 3 residents left at all and all empty apartments were being remodeled. Days after I was out mine was gutted. They were obviously price gouging to kick us all out so that they can throw up some fake granite counters, some modern looking cabinets and a couple stainless steel appliances so they can trick those young tech newbs into paying $1500 for a crappy little apartment. The lee side of Capitol Hill has become a slum, a very expensive, ugly, slum.

    • @renter, But it’s not gonna be a “Crappy Little Apartment”. It’s gonna be a nice looking one. Nicer than the one you had. And if you don’t believe that, then your just playing stupid.

      And it’s gonna be worth the “$1500” they charge.

      • Putting fancy counter tops, and new appliances won’t excuse the fact that the wiring is fucked, the plumbing is fucked, the washer and dyres are always broken, there are mice, The windows don’t close properly, and the floors are paper thin.

  4. These people were paying like $600+ below market, why is this coming as a shock to anyone here? How is this even news? Of course the new owners are raising the rent! $1100 for a 1.5 bedroom in that area is completely unreal when everywhere else is nearly twice that. Even the Central District isn’t that cheap anymore.

    • What I think people are missing is that… It’s not about the money for some of us. It’s about the way they are going about the rent increases and renovations and their avoidance of the tenant relocation ordinance.

      • I am unfortunately locked into my lease until February paying $1,200 for a 1.5 bedroom. I offered to break my lease and leave so they can renovate and raise rents, but they won’t let me leave. i don’t care about the $. I can pay $1,200 or I could be paying $2,000 and be ok. But what I am not ok with is the Stratford Company pushing around the people who cannot afford this, and if our rent is increasing… Clean the damn hallways and make this place safe for children. The gutted apartments are releasing who knows what into the air and there are STILL nails in the hallways and no light bulbs on the landings.

  5. So put some light bulbs in the landing fixtures and clean up some nails yourself. Problem solved and you get to enjoy a bargain rent until the end of your lease. Same for the guy the article focuses on.

      • I think if it meant saving $600/mo I’d change the occasional light bulb and pick up a few nails. But then again it’s been a long time since I’ve had a renter mentality.

    • I wish I could post what I have evidence what I lived with, caving in ceilings (yes when it rained it dripped to the flooring), the broken down entrance with open wiring coming out of the intercom, 3 blown up d-marks, list goes on.

      Celeste Refugee # 3 I am sorry you are locked in.

  6. I actually wish they would have offered to rent me one of the other units when they were “fixed up” I could have done 1400 for a nice unit. not 1600 for one that I spent years fixing up on my own.

  7. It is crystal clear that we, the people, must punish this landlord and any others who treat tenants this way.

    Y’all should seize the building and bring in your own team to do repairs, etc.

  8. I also don’t understand the problem. So new owners are taking a shitty run-down building with problems that existed before they took ownership of it and are renovating it when tenants move out…

    I understand that people are frustrated with being kicked out (I’ve been in that rental situation many times before), but I’m just confused when people are complaining about how shitty the apartment is (with pictures!) and then turn around and complain about it being renovated, which would of course lead to higher rent. Your original rent was low because it was shitty.

    I’m not a property owner or landlord, but people have to look at it from the other side too. Apartments and condos are notoriously difficult to renovate and keep up while people are actively living in them, so they tend to naturally become shittier and shittier over time. Or people complain about the noise and construction when the property renovates occupied units. Then, of course, the rent goes up because it is now renovated. So to keep rents “stable” we unwittingly create slums while simultaneously complaining about “slumlords”.

    Regarding shitty amenities and overall bad property management, if numerous complaints don’t get building/unit problems resolved, I speak with my wallet and move out to some place cheaper or nicer. These buildings turn to shit because people put up with it, whether it’s doors that don’t fully close, ceilings that are collapsing or non-functional washing machines. Just move out. Owning a rental property is not automatic free money. They will feel the effects of high turn over or low occupancy due to poor building management.

    • Again, the building was better kept when the Peterson Properties owned it. This all started when the new ownership took over. I wouldn’t have lived there since 09 if it was that bad.

  9. I lived there in August 1985 for about 3 years in #12. Rent was $290/month and I was the one that painted the tiles black as pictured above. The unit below me was empty and I got away with having really loud parties that I would DJ myself-Hi NRG and early years of House music. I loved Ellen Peterson. She was my “Anna Madrigal” and rented to me at age 16 after my parents kicked me out of the suburbs for being gay. The Celeste was like my own “Tales Of The City.” So many good memories. Things change…

    • Aw, yes super sweet family that helped all of us, and it’s sad to say they do change. I might reach out to Celeste to see how she and family are doing.