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Kenton Apartments tenants say they’re facing another Capitol Hill ‘economic eviction’

(Image: Milestone Tenants Fight Back)

A group of tenants is hoping to organize against the new owners of the 1926-built Capitol Hill brick apartment building they call home and fight back against what they say is an “economic eviction” underway on 16th Ave E.

“Tenants have been here as long as 11 years and we’re invested in staying in our homes in a way that is affordable and sustainable,” the Milestone Tenants Fight Back group writes. “We know the only way to do this is through our collective action and with the support of our broader community. In other words, we want to stay and fight!”

According to King County records, a company operated by Milestone Properties closed its purchase of the Kenton Apartments for $4.6 million in late January. The owner and manager of apartments in Seattle’s University District, Queen Anne, Greenwood, Interbay, Capitol Hill, Fremont, and Wallingford neighborhoods purchased the 300-block 16th Ave E property from its longtime family owners.

Milestone’s Jenny Domoto says it was the kind of transaction that is increasingly common in Seattle and on the Hill where smaller property owners are selling to larger companies. But she adds that, in Seattle’s real estate market, Milestone is puny compared to the national investors.

Domoto said that Milestone did, indeed, raise rents when it took over on top of charging for things the previous owners didn’t like parking or utility fees. It also started asking tenants who had been month to month to sign year-long leases. “It wasn’t run as a business,” Domoto said. “One guy owned and managed and created a really nice community.”

Domoto said Milestone realized its error after hearing the initial complaints about the increased costs and backed off the larger rent increase to a smaller uptick. But that hasn’t been enough to satisfy the tenant group. UPDATE: Domoto says they also offered Kenton tenants units with cheaper rents in other buildings on Capitol Hill.

“They are just demanding,” Domoto said. “I have tried negotiating. We cut the utility fee. We reduced the rent increase.”

“It’s like a campaign. It’s like they’re kids demanding more dessert.”

Some tenants have taken their “utility concession” money and put it toward helping fund the group’s campaign against Milestone.

A tenant in the building who has been part of the organizing said the group is open to negotiations and that they’re listening to Milestone. The group has countered with a list of demands for their new landlords —  including “no more than 10% TOTAL housing cost increase per year for all tenants, present and future, starting immediately” — and Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant has joined in with her support.

“The Kenton tenants have made you a reasonable and accommodating proposal,” Sawant writes in a letter to Milestone management (PDF) she posted publicly. “I urge you to accept it.

“My Council office and our housing justice movement will stand with the tenants of the Kenton, and indeed with all tenants, who are resisting greedy companies like Milestone,” Sawant writes. “Our movement is only just begun – to fight extortionate rent increases, demand citywide rent control with no corporate loopholes, and tax big business and the rich to fund affordable social housing for all.”

Earlier this month, CHS reported on Sawant’s ongoing support for tenant advocacy as she mounts a 2019 reelection campaign. The District 3 rep has also helped organize rallies for residents of the Chateau Apartments, a 21-unit Section 8 subsidized building purchased by a Seattle developer two years ago and slated to be replaced by a new microhousing project with 73 “small efficiency dwelling units.”

Despite its relatively small size in the world of multifamily real estate, Milestone still manages more than 500 units in the area including the Roni Lee building on E Harrison just off Broadway. The tenants group is now hoping to leverage that size and organize other buildings including the Roni Lee to join its call.

Domoto says the situation at the Kenton has been politicized and that Sawant and the tenants are up agains the realities of building ownership in Seattle. “I grew up in Seattle, I see how crazy it’s gotten. On the management side of things, things are expensive,” Domoto said.

Domoto says Milestone hasn’t heard from any other Seattle officials.

She said Milestone has taken a rational approach to owning an old, expensive building and not taking the teardown route to new development.

“We were fair,” she said. “We’re negotiating. The rent increase is definitely not out of this world.”

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59 thoughts on “Kenton Apartments tenants say they’re facing another Capitol Hill ‘economic eviction’

  1. The tenants should have purchased the building when it was put up for sale if they wanted a say in how much rent they pay.

    • We tried that already. Our original work was to form a housing cooperative to ensure affordable housing in Capitol Hill for generations to come. We only had two weeks notice of the sale. Despite that, we got 12/15 units in the building to sign on to our plan to buy the building and did quite a bit of groundwork in order to develop a proposal. However, the old landlord was under contract with a broker that eliminated his ability to entertain our offer.

      • So many interesting questions with comment but I’ll start with the most obvious: What was your proposal going to look like? I’m genuinely interested to hear how 12 people who are a rent raise away from economic eviction planned to come together and provide an offer that was anything close to competitive.

      • Just so you know, it is illegal for a landlord to ask you to sign a new lease after you have already been month-to-month. This happened when they were trying to demolish a building I was living in, and they wanted to get us all out by a certain date, so they coerced us into signing a new lease. That way, they could force us out at the end of the lease without giving any relocation assistance. When the city found out the whole thing got put on hold, and the building’s still sitting there empty almost 4 years later!

  2. I literally lol’d when I read “It’s like they’re kids demanding more dessert.” Impressed/love that Ms. Domoto is willing to be that frank.

    Also, looking at that photo I’m trying really hard to figure out which tenet is even old enough to have lived there for 11 years – anyone have a suggestion?

  3. If you want lower rent in Seattle, the economy needs to crash or something bad happens to the big employers in the region.

    • I don’t count “sending them to the guillotines” as something bad, but the corporate executives might. Either way, problem solved

  4. This is what happens when you continually heap more regulations, expense and risk on smaller property owners like the one’s who sold the building to Milestone. The previous owner ran it differently, creating a nice community, but as the purchaser said, he did not “run it like a business.”

    Seattle city council has, through excessive regulation, forced “professionalization” of the landlord business. That means small landlords either sell their property or hire professional property management companies to run their property. The result is increased rents, fees, etc.

    The pr

    • As a long-time landlord of a triplex, what you say is the 100% truth. Holding on as long as I can, but the risks of being accused of thought crimes when selecting tenants/neighbors soon can only be assumed by corporations.

      • Exactly. We currently rent out a former home. When our great tenants decide to move it will be just about impossible not to sell. 100% of the reason is Seattle city policy and the council. Ironically the only reason we may hold on is due to the Council, so many owners have sold out that it has driven up rents and values for single family rentals.

  5. They lost me with Sawant. I had to literally sue metropolitan management for a unit in the Bel Roy apartment over flooding, rats, and rent increases the city didn’t give a crap then and if they buckle for these people I will be back in court to seek more damages. These people do not own the property the owners owe them nothing. I worked 4 jobs at one point to save up for a condo I think they can do the same. Nothing special about this…Nothing.

  6. When you rent this is a risk you take… but it is not without reward, as you also don’t bear the same obligations.

    There are advantages and disadvantages on both sides of the equation. When you own a home, if something breaks or needs to be maintained you need to take care of it yourself, you are responsible for everything. On the other hand you acquire a stability that renters are never guaranteed. Renters are free to not have to take care of the mundane chores like mowing the grass or shoveling snow, and free of the sudden expense of having to replace a furnace or repair a roof, but also cannot expect that they will never have to face rent increases or the sale of their building.

    • um, there’s no ownership opportunities anymore? starter homes are long gone. That’s why we’re fighting. A better world is possible.

      • Gee… and who’s fault is it that there’s no starter homes anymore… hmmm… Oh right, people like you who think that it’s best to tear it all down and redevelop – ostensibly the density will bring down prices… right…. not.. no one redevelops a lot to a *cheaper* house… they just put on a bigger, shiny, newer one at 3X the price or 6 or 8 that each cost 2X as much as the original one.

        Nope, land is so much king now that it’s become nearly impossible for just a plain old person to buy an ugly, tiny or rundown house to fix up and turn into a home anymore.

        And I can even give a great example. There’s a lot near me that is too tiny for *any* redevelopment. It’s little one story cottage is already built as as wide and long as it could be. Maybe you could put up a single small two story home on it – but that would be it – it didn’t get snatched up by a developer because it simply wasn’t worth it. It had also been empty for probably near 20 years, though at least minimally maintained – no roof leaks or broken windows. It sold for around $300,000 – last year, I believe. It may have been the last cheap house in the city… mainly because the rest are already fixed up and expensive or open to have something expensive put on their lots. There’s no such thing anymore as buying the worst house on the best block you can afford, because the developers always have deeper pockets.

    • What a sad comment. Yes there are actually white millennial’s who don’t work in the tech industry and struggle to pay rent as well. Stop with the racism.

  7. I lived in their Roni Lee building (moved in January). My apartment flooded 3 times from weather, once from overhead pipe leak which exposed previous black mold problems that only continued. Then they wanted to up the rent!

  8. They want out of owning it because if rent control comes up from Oregon it will destroy the sale value of an old property with a bunch of low rent tenants in place. Property tax, WSG, electric all keep going up around 10% a year. The new sale value of the building will also need paying off. Most landlords are lucky to make 5% after costs, a lot might be thinks it’s just not worth the hassle…

  9. Sadly, the trouble, expense, inconvenience and displacement has just started for these tenants and property owners. The City of Seattle will soon start requiring all unreinforced masonry buildings such as this one, to be earthquake retrofitted. Public safety is the primary reason for requiring retrofits of these older beautiful brick buildings and requiring retrofits for them means that more of these “character buildings” may be preserved after an earthquake, but it may also mean more are torn down. This one is pretty nice and I doubt it will be demolished, but the tenants will probably have to vacate while the property is retrofitted. And of course, the rents will have to go up even more to pay for these upgrades.

  10. I’m just curious to see what the rent increase was. More than 15%, 20%? I think 10% is pretty fair, but again it’s up to the landlord’s to decide what’s fair.

    • It was as high as 70% on one home. 45% on another couple. For all residents who received the original notification, it was above well above 10%. None of this is fair. We didn’t ask them to buy the building and clearly the money they used to buy it comes from price gouging other Seattle renters. Like by illegally raising the rent on the commenter from the Roni Lee above.

      This has nothing to do with fairness, but who has power. Currently Milestone thinks they have the power to get away with this sort of behavior, but in places like Oregon that has changed.

      Because landlords and bosses aren’t the power in society, the people who pay the bills and do all the work have far more if they organize and fight for their own interest.

      • Yes, we are seeing the response to Oregon rent control – old building + low rent = sell = demolish and build to increase rent.

        A new building in Oregon is not subject to rent control :)

      • All of these percentages flying around mean nothing if you don’t know what the tenant was paying. If they were paying something that was nothing hear “market rate” and suddenly had their rent raised to market rate, or close to it, they’ll all squawk how “unfair” it was– till they look elsewhere and see what it would cost to rent somewhere else.

        The old saying “be careful what you ask for” applies here. With higher taxes and utilities and regulations and the like, a lot of tenants might be in for a BIG shock when they see what a landlord might be allowed to raise the rent to, upon submitting all the documentation proving it out. They might realize how under-market they’d been paying for a long time.

      • As usual, Jim speaks the truth. It is routine, and fair, that a new owner raises rents to market rate if the previous rents were lower than the median. Nothing wrong with that, and I suspect this was the case with this building.

        The tenants are lucky to have free utilities (and parking too?)…..those are a significant expense.

    • I saw on twitter the rents were being raised from $1310 to $1600. They HAD to know that is obscenely under market value. The units are huge. Market value for the one bedroom units in that building is around $2100 PLUS utilities PLUS parking.

      • Exactly!

        The headline for this article should be, “People Not Living In Reality, Now Live In Reality”.

        It might be a little wordy for a headline, but you get my point.

      • You clearly are not a renter. $2100 gets you a new building with gym/concierge/rooftop deck/etc., and those buildings are struggling to fill units (they’re all offering rent concessions now). $1300-$1600 is pretty average though for the area, a little more or less depending on how well the building have been maintained and updated as well as the amenities.

      • incorrect. I live (rent) in the building next door. It’s a carbon copy of this building.1920s brick. ugly small building next to the hospital parking lot. Zero amenities. No gym, decks, grass, etc. Nasty old lobby. The units are HUGE 1-2 bedrooms (800-1050 sq ft) and beautiful if you like the old world charm of the coved ceilings and glass door knobs (which I LOVE – new construction is not for me) BUT it also has all the funky things that come with a building this age. The rents in my building are $1950-$2450 depending on the unit size. Uncovered parking is another $150. WSG is $90pp. The units are always full. Perhaps you haven’t looked at the rental prices on the hill in a while…Or you’re comparing a tiny studio in a cheap new building to the huge units in these old brick buildings.

    • The Sale Deck that lists the current rent price at the time of the sale (on Page 7):

      I think this information would have made this article much stronger. It took a simple google search to find it.

      I would argue it’s up to the market to decide what’s fair, and the landlord to know what the market is – since a unit is only as much as someone would pay for it. With this building, how cute the the units are (pages 8-10), the parking situation, and a 96 walk score / 75 transit score, looking at websites now for similar units, I’d say 1 bed on the 1st floor would easily be worth $1,950+ in that area.

      So a 70% increase (per Stuart’s reply), I’m thinking that was for the person paying $1,265 for a top floor 1bed/1bath, which would have been an increase to $2,150. Seems reasonable for the area, though that increase is a shock for anyone – but the city has that 60 day notice for increases over 10% so if that’s too much, tenants have the time to find a new place to live before the increase goes into effect.

  11. I’m sorry but the tenants don’t own the building. The new owner can do whatever the hell it wants with its new property. I’m also a renter in the city and about as liberal as they come, but this is just the reality of renting.

    • “Liberal as the come”…You might want to read up on labor history/housing not for profit history before you label yourself someone who supports a property owner’s right to “do whatever it wants with their new property.

      • No, he’s actually totally aligned with liberal values. Liberalism espouses that the market should exist everywhere, but with minor state intervention – just enough so that the people don’t revolt and can continue to generate profit for with their labor and buy products from wealthy corporations and industry. Liberalism has always been about keeping the ruling class in power, and part of that is recognizing that they need a disenfranchised working class to stay there – not a dead working class, or worse: an organizing one.

        Good luck on your fight for the most basic physical needs, comrades of the tenants group.

  12. These people don’t really care about unaffordable housing costs, they sat there and watched for 8+ years as rents skyrocketed and didn’t do shit until it effected them directly. They just think they’re entitled to pay less to live than everyone else. I bet these are the same people who vote for every property tax levy and developer fee and then bitch when rents go up because of it!

  13. In my 1920’s brick building on the very same block the uncovered parking is $150 per month. This building has individual garages with storage! Those were free?! That’s just a crazy good deal, but welcome to the real world – Those types of amenities are not usually free.

    We all have leases in my building. We pay $90 for W/S/G. Rent is $2400 a month. It’s average for Capitol Hill. I’m willing to bet they’re not even trying to raise your rent to the same costs as the other buildings surrounding you.

      • WSG – water sewer garbage. It’s $90 per person in my building. My building is almost identical to this one, so I’m willing to guess they have a boiler room for hot water. Heat is electric and is individually metered/billed separately. We don’t have gas.

        I’m also not complaining about the $90 per month for it. I think it’s a fair price. I’m just shocked these people are complaining that their building wants them to pay for these things.

  14. Dear Entitled Millennials

    I would love to live on Central Park West in NY city, but guess what? I cant afford it! Should someone be forced to rent to me for less than market rate just because i cant afford it?

    Reality check people, no one owes you anything.

    If the owner wanted to charge $10,000 a month for a studio they could No one would rent it of course but that is their provocative

    If you cant pay $1600 for a large apartment ..someone else can.

  15. There is lots of bitterness on these forums about the rental rates issue. It is an issue. Its one that the city of Seattle acknowledges. I understand the frustration that can come from seeing people complaining about having to pay more for things.

    What we are experiencing is the financial growing pains of living in a economically growing city. The reality is that the bite of the cost of living will change as wages detach from the stagnation that they have experienced. Back in the day, hearing someone say they make 4.25 an hour and survived, had a home and food was not surprising. To help the growth in the cost of living the minimum wage was raised in Seattle to 15 an hour.

    These types of things will happen. Salaries go up. Cost of goods you purchase will go up. That apple you buy will be more expensive to pay a fraction of the $15 that moved the apple from the bin in storage to the shelves to your shopping bag. But the wages are slow to catch up to the rents in Seattle and all the other costs. Let’s say you made 15 an hour working full time and your shared rent was $900 or you chose to live in an apodment. You would get a approximately 2k a month to cover food, clothing, rent, and other expenses of living. But as you know, it won’t get you savings, it won’t get you any extra ability to experience upward mobility. You will have enough to keep the lights on. More over, if you are on the average rent for a two bedroom and you are splitting it it is 2100 a month or 1050 per person (over one paycheck) not including utilities and all the other requirements.

    Let’s not get too excited about the working poor being unhappy about their rent going up. I don’t have to worry about it because I was lucky enough to have connections and get a good paying job. Others are not as lucky as I am. Others are not as lucky as you are. You don’t know the circumstances another faces that puts them in financial hardship. It’s easy to judge it less easy and more work to actually understand the specific issues of each individual suffering.

    Let’s take a break on blaming the victims in this matter (the renters) and let’s err on the side of “It’s too bad that this happened to them” as the best message. And I hope they are able to find new homes as the best message.

    • And to those thinking that people who can’t afford the privilege of living in the city should move. Don’t we want diversity in our cities? Doesn’t diversity grow our experiences and help us understand the world.

      Saying people should move because they are too poor is like saying all gay people should move out of the city. Or all blacks or hispanics. Which, if we priced the poor out of the city, the city will naturally become even more white and less diverse if the economic numbers have anything to say about it.

      Please stop and think before you throw out blanket bigoted statements to situations of which you are not experienced or exist in. It is easy to pass quick judgement. It’s hard work to do the research and understand the years of experiences and know the data and situations that lead you to a more informed judgement of anyone’s situation.

      • Seattle, in particular- Capitol Hill, doesn’t really want a lot of poor or even middle class people around anymore. A small token number to keep that pseudo-liberal flag up will do. After all, humble brag requires something to brag over you know.

        Seattle welcomes rich gays, rich blacks, rich Asians, rich Latinos and well anything rich. Green is the equalizer. New money, old money, bling, bling razzle-dazzle….. c’mon down, because the price is right.

        But there are still cute, affordable places in W. Seattle…so if people are willing to be flexible, spend a bit more time commuting, there’s a very nice community here. Reminds me of the more laid back Capitol Hill used to be.

      • “….so if people are willing to be flexible, spend a bit more time commuting…”

        Waaaaaa!!! No, I don’t *WANT* to move to West Seattle! Boo-hoo-hoo…. I *deserve* to live on Capitol Hill, and Kshama says I *deserve* rent control! Waaaaaaaahhhhh!!!!

      • If corporations rule the world and there is a stigma put onto poor people and those not privileged, yes I guess “waaaaahhh”. Maturity about these situations is the ask. But humans are always quick to judge black or white and not actually do the research to make educated decisions. I guess its what you would expect in the insular “me” mentality of humans in modern society that are so busy trying to keep their own shelter they don’t have time to be concerned about others. Its a toxicity in our society right now driven by corporate greed and humans that are asked to do more and more for and with less and less. So yea, I guess “waaaaaahhhh”. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could bring humanity back into being human where we care for those around us and it is not just “me” versus everyone else?

  16. Garden studios?

    “cj on Tuesday, March 26, 2019 – 11:32 am at 11:32 AM
    Just so you know, it is illegal for a landlord to ask you to sign a new lease after you have already been month-to-month. This happened when they were trying to demolish a building I was living in, and they wanted to get us all out by a certain date, so they coerced us into signing a new lease. That way, they could force us out at the end of the lease without giving any relocation assistance. When the city found out the whole thing got put on hold, and the building’s still sitting there empty almost 4 years later!“

  17. While I empathize with these tenants cause paying more sucks. They have to face the reality that they are renters renting in an area where the costs of living have gone up as have the costs of doing business. So rents have risen. It sounds like they had a mom and pop owner who kept rents low then sold but the new owner is choosing to run it more like a business. That’s how it goes. If you don’t like that you’re free to move. But Sawant and her adversarial approach towards dealing with landlords is only going to cause more owners to sell to corporate hedge fund owned out of town owners who are ruthless and cold in their dealings with tenants who are no longer people, reduced to being just a number of a Wall Street balance sheet.

  18. The real issue here is the original property owner literally “selling out” by selling the place to a corporation who’s going to retro fit the place and displace all the tenants to be replaced by techies pay twice the amount instead of selectively choosing who he sold the place to in order to preserve a good thing that was going. Besides, does this former owner need 4.6 million in his pocket? i really don’t think so. Likely he bought the building for close to nothing and will go to the grave with a stacked bank account while former tenants potentially face being out on the streets. Classic capitalist greed that were seeing home owners all over the city selling out their neighborhoods every single day without being in a discussion around WHOM they are selling to to preserve the last of what we have.. it’s disgraceful and i’d love to see the city itself (who has also sold out long ago) step in and actually give a shit about the people who built this town

    • You are right that “selling out” is a big part of why our quiet neighborhoods are being inundated with new, often cheap and ugly new buildings that replace older, modest homes and apartment buildings. Rapacious developers do not care about preserving what we have….they only care about making money.

      However, I wouldn’t be so quick to condemn property owners who are selling when developers offer them alot of money. I suspect that many of them are people who bought their property years ago and just want to maximize their investment now…..maybe they are on a limited income and/or need to fund their retirements, for example. Can you really blame them?

      In my case, I have made arrangements in my will for my little 100-year old house to live on for some years after I die. But not everyone is in a financial situation that allows them to do this.

      • it’s not a matter of selling to retire, sure no problem. the issue is that the owners can choose who they sell to. so again instead of 4.7 million from the developer how about 3.5 from the local guy who may want to buy it and care for the building in its current state… the higher price tag and lack of accountability around the future of the neighborhood is the selling out piece. future generations are affected by this greed and yes capitalism is the actual problem. home owners need to be in conversations with renters and we all need to be working together to preserve the neighborhood before its actually gone

      • Yes, in a ideal world, sellers would do what you say, but let’s be realistic…..very, very few homeowners would sell to the lowest bidder. And, even if they do, what’s to keep the next owner from flipping the property and selling to a developer at a higher price a few months after they own the place? This actually happened recently across the street from where I live….a modest bungalow sold a year or so ago for about one million, the new owner spruced it up a bit, and it’s now for sale again….for probably well over a million.