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.”
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.