Filed under: Action, Central, Housing
Report back from the Houston Tenants Union in Texas about a recent campaign by tenants against an abusive slum lord.
Vera has been living at 7318 Thurow St. for a little over two years. During this time she has dealt with unlawful late fee collection, infestations of rats and other pests, non-functioning toilets and various other kinds of disrepair, all due to the landlords’ incompetence and malicious neglect. The male landlord has walked into her home without notice while she is nude after showering.
The landlords dumped an abused dog on the property that Jason, another Thurow St. tenant, nursed back to health and cared for over the last two years. When the Thurow tenants started objecting to the poor conditions the landlords retaliated by taking the dog. No one has seen the dog since. Jason has also helped care for the elderly father of the slumlords, who lives on the property. Often this elder is without adequate food, medical care, or hygiene.
Other tenants live in a windowless shack in the backyard that was poorly converted from a garage by the landlord, in clear violation of numerous safety and building codes. HCAD lists the structure as a garage, not as living space.
Now the Thurow Tenants are banding together to fight back against their slumlords. The tenants have been coordinating a strong campaign of documentation which can be found at Thurow Slums. They have also been distributing flyers throughout the area to warn others of the slumlords’ callous disregard for maintaining a safe home for the tenants at the property. The tenants have been motivated and actively resisting, recently they contacted Houston Tenants Union to help with their efforts.
Tenants Deliver Demands
In January 2023 when a friend of one of the Thurow tenants met a HTU organizer at a community event and she passed on her information. The next day the tenant reached out and explained the situation. Within the week, two HTU organizers established a regular meeting schedule with tenants, working to develop specific demands, research the landlord, and make plans for escalation to win those demands.
On February 2nd the Thurow Tenants, along with HTU and allied organizations, marched on the home of their slumlord, demanding justice for landlord harassment, intimidation, neglect, and threats of eviction. They delivered a demand letter that includes: Granting the tenants 6 months to leave the property, assistance with their relocation costs, and the return of their dog, Loba, who was dumped on the property without shelter, clean water, or care until the tenants took her in.
Meet the Slumlords
The landlords are Alvaro Esparza Elias and Katia Morales Sanchez, a married couple. Besides being a slumlord, Sanchez is a CPA who worked as a professor at HCC Southwest College in the accounting department. They own another rental property at 5939 Belcrest St. which is currently listed for sale.
Alvaro Elias and Katia Sanchez live in a luxurious home, financed on the backs of working people who deserve their own hygienic and safe homes, but Alvaro and Katia’s rotting rental properties are incompetently renovated, unclean, infested and overcrowded.
In January 2023, Alvaro and Sanchez listed the 7318 Thurow St property for sale. They are using this potential sale as an excuse to force out the ‘troublesome’ tenants and replace them with vulnerable, undocumented tenants who won’t protest their mistreatment. Slumlords count on their tenants being isolated and afraid to get away with their neglect and abuse.
Tenant Action and Landlord Retaliation
On Feb. 9 the Thurow Tenants called on community support for their struggle in the form of a one day phone zap targeting their slumlords, which was posted on social media by HTU and allied organizations. Acting in solidarity, tenants around the country participated by calling the slumlords to insist they acknowledge and accept the Thurow tenants’ demands.
Later in February the landlords intensified their retaliation against tenants. The landlords are refusing to collect rent from the tenants and are threatening to throw their possessions into the street. They have not filed evictions in court or given tenants any kind of official notice to vacate. Thurow Tenants strongly voiced objections to these threats of illegal eviction and the landlords retaliated by fabricating a report to the police, accusing Jason of assaulting the elderly father of the landlords. Jason was arrested and held at Harris County Detention Center facing a felony charge that could have had him incarcerated for 10 years, but it was dismissed due to lack of evidence. The landlords have also been installing invasive cameras and microphones around the property and attic of the house.
After this increased intimidation from the landlords, Thurow Tenants planned another direct action at the home of the landlords to deliver rent in person. On February 28, Thurow Tenants, supported by HTU members and other tenants, marched to the landlords’ residence. As tenants approached the front door, Alvaro Elias, who was collecting his trash can, fled to the backyard. The tenants announced they were there to deliver rent and chanted their support, but neither Alvaro or Katia appeared at the door to collect rent. In fact, Katia started closing the blinds in the house and Alvaro turned on loud music in an attempt to drown out the chants of solidarity. Tenants and supporters declared that “Slumlords live here!” and stayed to speak to some of their neighbors about the abuse these slumlords have been conducting on the tenants.
The landlords have so far failed to agree to the demands, so we will escalate until they are met. Thurow Tenants and HTU are prepared to maintain efforts to the fullest extent possible. We believe it is reasonable and justified to demand recompense. Solidarity with the tenants of 7318 Thurow St. and tenants everywhere! If you have had enough of your landlord and want to do something about it, join us to fight back.
Houston Tenants Union is an organization of tenants in Houston, Texas, committed to collective direct action, independence and rank-and-file democracy. Houston Tenants Union launched in June 2019, initiated by tenant organizers who were previously a part of Southwest Defense Network, Third Ward Defense Network, 2100 Memorial Campaign, Industrial Workers of the World – General Defense Committee, and other housing/tenant and labor movement work.