The Tenants Who Evicted Their Landlord
October 14, 2020 9:06 AM   Subscribe

Matthew Desmond (previously, 2, 3) reports: "For years, Jackson, Chacón and other residents of five buildings in the city’s Corcoran neighborhood had been involved in a prolonged battle against their landlord, Stephen Frenz, and his business partner, Spiros Zorbalas. The tenants had mobilized for better conditions, resisted evictions and participated in a rent strike. They had banded together and pushed the City Council to revoke Frenz’s rental license. It eventually did, stripping his ability to collect rent. But Frenz still owned the apartments where Jackson and Chacón lived. He wanted everybody out so he could renovate and sell to the highest bidder. The tenants had another idea: They wanted Frenz to sell to them."
posted by jshttnbm (8 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
After the church vigil, I asked Andrew Fahlstrom, a community organizer with IX, why the group always raised such a fuss. Fahlstrom, flashing a smile, replied, “To remind them that City Hall isn’t a place of sun power but moon power.” He had first learned of this distinction from Ricardo Levins Morales, a local artist and movement elder. “Sometimes those people forget,” Fahlstrom went on. “They think the power comes from them, like they are the sun, sending out the power. But they are like the moon, shining back our power. Our actions remind them that the power comes from the people.”
I really like that.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 11:53 AM on October 14 [54 favorites]

I had a very bad landlord. So bad that our building was taken from him to be managed by someone the city designated. This despite the fact that his daughter-in-law was a judge for the city.

This story brought back a lot of memories.
posted by sciencegeek at 12:06 PM on October 14 [5 favorites]

My real estate "empire" has only been two properties at its absolute zenith, but just doing the shit required by the laws and regulations of your jurisdiction makes the landlord life 10000% less stressful that than the horse shit I read about in these "slum lord" stories.

Yeah, sometimes your tenant asks for permission to park their RV on the front lawn, gets denied, does it anyway, and then eventually crashes the RV into the rental (gnar gnar gnar gnar). But, never having to go to court, not having your tenant's rent go into an escrow account, not having to hiring lawyers to argue what "habitable" means, not having your bullshit getting written up the NYTimes, etc. etc, is to me worth so much more than whatever money you'd save on not doing the legally mandated repairs and upgrades.
posted by sideshow at 12:06 PM on October 14 [7 favorites]

This is a total tangent but an interesting story: my ex-in-laws who live in Mumbai had their apartment stolen from them by their tenants. My ex's grandparents purchased two apartments side by side in a choice neighborhood in Mumbai ye so many decades ago. The plan was to get their two sons living next door to one another for life. But one son (my ex's uncle) was still in college, so that apartment was rented out "for just a couple of years". The tenant never left. The rent they pay is still the same ridiculous amount agreed on back in the 1970s, like 350 rupees (which is ~$5 US). The apartment is worth approximately one million US dollars today.

The court case against the tenant has been stuck in the courts for over 40 years because the tenant keeps bribing people to delay the docket. It's just a fantastical situation, I was flabbergasted when I learned about it. As long as the tenant keeps paying their rent on time, they can't be sued under the squatting laws which would automatically have higher priority in the courts.
posted by MiraK at 2:39 PM on October 14 [3 favorites]

I hope it works out for them but it’s going to be a lot of work. I lived in an artist co-op for almost 20 years and sadly 10% of people do 90% of the work. Burnout is a big problem. Having to evict one of your neighbors when they just stop paying their share is a real thing and is not fun.
posted by misterpatrick at 4:12 PM on October 14 [3 favorites]

I'd love to read this but I don't subscribe and can't access it.
posted by Flock of Cynthiabirds at 4:18 PM on October 14

Here's a non-paywalled archive of the article.

You may also be able to get to the article by adding a . after the .com in the URL:
posted by belladonna at 5:32 PM on October 14 [4 favorites]

Thanks for the great article! I used to live in a house that was subdivided into three apartments by a landlord who was an architect who owned several buildings in our neighborhood. For awhile he was a fine landlord, but then he left the country for work and took that opportunity to stop paying the mortgage and utility bills on many of the properties him and his wife owned, including ours. We found out about this when the water and gas utilities tried to shut off our service (and successfully did cut off the water to our neighbors in another of their properties). We were able to talk the utility workers out of it, but only through some good luck. The landlord claimed the utilities had trouble cashing his checks, but he was several months behind in payments. Then a process server showed up to give notice of the bank foreclosing on the building.

We were able to get help from a non-profit who assisted us with escrow and standing up to the landlord when he threatened our undocumented upstairs neighbor to try to get us all to keep paying rent during the foreclosure. His parents ended up hiring a lawyer who worked out some deal with the bank so they could sell the building and we had to leave.

To make a long story longer, he's still a landlord in the area and never had to pay any fines or take any losses for almost making us all homeless (and the anxiety and the lack of water for our neighbors and taking our rent without paying his bills, etc.) I'm very happy that there are ways for tenants to fight back, but a housing system that provides basically no pro-active protection to tenants unless you organize yourselves is deeply broken. Landlords get such such a huge amount of power just for having the capital to buy up a necessity that we all need.
posted by futurescamp at 11:42 AM on October 15 [3 favorites]

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