Filed under: Action, Housing, Northwest
Report from Puget Sound Tenant Union about campaign to demand that Tecton Corporation make basic repairs in the city of Burien, Washington in the Pacific Northwest.
This summer, we made contact and started organizing with tenants at two apartment buildings in Burien managed by Tecton Corporation. Tecton is a large, shady property management company that maintains (or rather, fails to maintain!) many slumlord properties in the Puget Sound area, as the numerous 1-star reviews on their Yelp and Google Reviews page can attest.
We were horrified by the terrible, unhealthy, unsafe conditions at these buildings — conditions that have persisted for many years. We found that many units were infested with cockroaches and bedbugs, and suffer from major problems like water damage, flooding (in one building, the first floor floods annually with dirty sewage water), widespread black mold, unstable balconies, frequent elevator break-downs (causing wheelchair-bound tenants to get trapped in or out of their homes for days), etc. There is trash and graffiti everywhere, and the carpets are extremely old and moldy and haven’t been cleaned in years, maybe decades.
Many tenants have repeatedly filed maintenance requests and complained to property managers in the buildings to no avail. Spanish speakers in particular reported feeling discriminated against and treated with extreme hostility and condescension and even being subtly threatened with deportation.
In June, tenants at one building started a petition that contained basic demands, e.g., that Tecton make timely repairs in accordance with state law (RCW 59.18.070), set up an emergency line for urgent repairs, replace moldy carpets, and do an inspection on the building. We delivered the petition as a group after collecting more than 70 signatures across a large majority of units in the building.
Tecton responded by denying any wrongdoing and asking tenants to file individual work orders once again. We collected dozens of maintenance requests and turned them in together, but after several months, none of the most important repairs have been made and no other demands have been met.
By this time we had expanded to another Tecton-managed property across the street, where tenants circulated a similar petition. Again gathering support from a majority of tenants at the building, a group of tenants delivered the petition to the on-site property manager and a higher-up “business manager,” Joe Dizon. Joe, presumably sent by Tecton to try to soothe the growing unrest, attempted to pacify us with shameless excuses. At one point, he said that “supply chain” problems during the pandemic were the main culprit, even though these problems started YEARS before COVID!
In addition, seeing as Tecton and the landlords have been in blatant violation of the law, tenants have tried complaining to the City of Burien multiple times and even reaching out to local politicians. However, this yielded no results. When city officials finally deigned to meet with us, it was only to tell us that they could do nothing because tenant laws are “self-enforced,” or landlord-tenant disputes are “private” matters in which the state can’t intervene. We have to wonder, what is the purpose of even having laws if they can’t be enforced?!
To add insult to injury, one city official glibly suggested that tenants should JUST MOVE OUT!
Maybe this is a solution for affluent renters, but for many low-income people, this just isn’t an option. Many residents are barely making ends meet as is. Not only is it difficult to find comparably-priced apartments — with rents shooting up across the county — they also have to pay hefty moving fees. Many residents have lived in these apartments for years, even decades, and are embedded in the local community; this is where their jobs, their churches, and their children’s schools are located. Some residents are elderly and disabled. Moving is no easy task.
After such disappointing encounters with these so-called public servants, we realized that in the end, we only had ourselves to rely on; the City won’t hold these companies accountable, so we have to do it. And so, we decided to escalate by taking the fight to Tecton’s headquarters.
On Monday, November 29th, roughly 30 tenants and activists gathered in front of Tecton’s main office in Renton. With our signs and banners, we marched inside to reiterate the demands from the petitions. Little did we know, the building’s management had tipped off Tecton, so we were met with locked doors. Through the glass doors, we spied Joe and other employees scurrying off to avoid having to listen to their tenants.
This cowardly act by Tecton was not surprising for a company known for neglecting its tenants. Even though we couldn’t look the Tecton higher-ups in the eye and say our piece, we still had a spirited rally outside: we left the building but continued chanting, waving signs, and giving speeches. We’re not going to give up! This isn’t the last you’ve seen of us!
Finally, we want to emphasize that Tecton isn’t the only problem; it’s not even the biggest problem. The fault lies with the companies that actually own the apartments, MJW Investments and Odyssey Properties Group. Both are billion-dollar investment companies based out of southern California that own dozens of properties across the US. They buy up slummy, neglected properties in hot housing markets like Seattle, hold onto them for a few years while collecting rent, and then re-sell for a huge profit. Not only are they neglecting their duties as landlords and putting tenants’ lives in danger, they’re also contributing to gentrification and displacement and exacerbating the housing crisis in King County. They don’t just affect the people who live in their buildings; they affect all tenants. These corporations are the enemy of ALL TENANTS.
Puget Sound Tenants Union believes we need to unite and fight against our enemy! We believe that when we fight, WE WIN!