Seramonte Tenants Heard; Decision Delayed – New Haven Independent

by | Sep 16, 2022 10:39 am
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Posted to: Hamden, Housing
Nora Grace-Flood Photo
Tenants and organizers at the launch of the Seramonte Tenants Union.
Hamden’s Fair Rent Commission arose from the dead — and heard from tenants facing rent increases of up to 75 percent at a pothole-laden apartment complex.
The newly reconstituted commission held its first meeting in four years Thursday night, over Zoom.
The first order of business was hearing a complaint from tenants at the Seramonte Estates on Mix Avenue, over a dozen of whom have filed complaints against the landlord.
It turned out to be a partial hearing: Three of the tenants got to tell their side of the story to the commissioners, who granted the landlord’s attorney to continue the hearing another two weeks without making a decision to give him a chance to prepare and present his side.
In addition to what they called exorbitant rent increases, the tenants and their called-on witnesses, who included other tenant union members and organizers with the Democratic Socialists of America, accused management of non-responsiveness to complaints, predatory vehicle towing practices, and poor living conditions. (Click here to read a full previous story about conditions at the complex and the formation of a tenant union there.)

Seramonte tenants approaching management back in May.
At least 12 other tenants have been scheduled to go before the commission throughout October. 
The three who spoke Thursday (a fourth was scheduled to testify but experienced an emergency during the live meeting) were specifically opposing a rent increase that was set to go into effect Oct. 1.
Sameed Iqbal, 26, who lives with his two parents, older brother, and his brother’s wife and daughter, was among those who testified. Iqbal and his brother are the breadwinners for their family, who reside in a merged, two-unit apartment at Seramonte. When asked to explain the layout, Iqbal said the apartments have different unit numbers but feature just one shared kitchen.
Iqbal’s family was told they would have to start paying $3,500 a month on October first — a $1,500, or 75 percent, increase over his current rent (as detailed in this previous New Haven Register story on the filed complaints).
It has been a really tough time managing this amount of change,” Iqbal said Thursday night. This came out of nowhere. I had no idea this would be possible … That you could raise somebody’s rent by this much without even a two month notice.”
Others expressed similar sentiments, saying that they may have never even thought to contest the imposed raises if it weren’t for organizing aid from the Central Connecticut Democratic Socialists of America.
Yeliza Crespo, a single mom to a 13-year-old daughter who has lived at Seramonte since 2016, said that when she’s been hit with raises in the past, she figured either I pay it or I’m left out in the streets.”
She agreed to a $200 raise imposed last year, she said, when management told her their reasoning was that they were planning to build a gym and my apartment was due to be renovated.”
A year later, none of that ever happened whatsoever,” she said, but she was still notified of another $400 rent jump.
Through the union, she said, she connected with DSA organizer Luke Melonakos-Harrison, who helped her prepare a complaint.
The second rent raise, she said, is absurd to me because they’ve done absolutely nothing. If anything, it’s gotten worse.”
In 2021, two fires broke out in her building, one killing a neighbor, she said. The fire alarm didn’t even go off,” she said. It was pretty traumatizing.” 
In the winter, Crespo said, she has had to miss work due to packed snow and ice, which management failed to attend to. Potholes on the property have damaged her car, she argued, and the estate’s contracted towing company, MyHoopty,” tows so aggressively that she no longer parks in her own apartment lot.
Melonakos-Harrison spoke up as Crespo’s witness. He decried unconscionable” rent increases and said she is still owed reimbursement for lack of air conditioning, damage to her car, being stuck and missing days of work and therefore missing income.”
Melonakos-Harrison also represented tenant Yamil Crevecoeur, another single mother with two children who works at Quinnipiac University as a custodian.
She was told to expect an $800 increase this October.
Melonakos-Harrison said her landlord then tried to offer a $400 increase over the $800 — $400 is still extreme but demonstrates that the $800 is absolutely arbitrary.” 
Kirk Westfall, the attorney representing Northpoint, the complex’s property management group, called some tenant statements non-factual” hearsay.
In seeking a continuance of the hearing rather than present the landlord’s case, Westfall said that his team had been notified of the hearing date six days earlier. He said he needed more time to approach the complainants and see if we can negotiate something,” as well as to put together records of expenditures and projected budgeting alongside a long list of documents he claimed key to making his argument.
In exchange for the extra time, he offered to ensure that tenants would not have to pay a rent jump until November in the case the commission upholds the raises.
Town Attorney Tim Lee said that Seramonte had been granted a legally acceptable period of time to prepare. Nevertheless, he advised that it was reasonable to have the Fair Rent Commission continue these matters for 30 days or so.”
The commission decided that tenants could still testify on Thursday with the understanding that the commission could call them to return for cross examination when Seramonte returns to make its case in late September. 
Tenants who said they have been waiting months, in some cases years, for a chance to address their living situations bristled at the idea that the meeting be continued. They said Seramonte had failed to acknowledge their union upon its creation in May and have been ignoring complaints that they reportedly filed with the Fair Rent Commission as far back as February.
The Fair Rent Commission itself has been out of operation since August 2018. The Hamden Legislative Council voted this month to appoint two new members to the volunteer body in order to allow for a forum and ensure that tenants could be heard prior to October, when their rents were supposed to rise.
Commissioner Peter Cunningham suggested the commission reconvene in no more than seven days after Thursday’s meeting. Commissioners agreed on the following Wednesday.
I can’t do it,” Westfall said.
Tuesday is a Jewish holiday” (Rosh Hashanah), he replied. I can’t do it. I need two weeks.”
Sept. 29, two days before Oct. 1, was decided on as the date for the continued hearing.
Yeliza Crespo on Zoom: Two days to decide housing fate?
If the commission came to a decision about whether or not the rent increases were just on that later date, Yeliza Crespo inquired, Does that mean I’ll have two days to decide whether I’m staying here, or whether I’m leaving?”
That question led to more confusion over Westfall’s pledge to the commission. He had agreed to lift October rent raises regardless of the commission’s final judgment so long as they continued the hearing — but, halfway through the tenants’ testimonies, Westfall suggested his original offer did not stand because although his commitment was continued, tenants were still allowed to speak in advance of Sept. 29.
Now you understand what we were offering,” Westfall laughed. It was better wasn’t it?”
The commission said that the tenants would be free from rent raises so long as their complaints were under review — and that the commission would likely require more time beyond the evening of the final hearing to make a decision.
In the meantime, tenants will have to wait a little longer to find out the town’s and estate’s next steps — as well as their own.

Nora Grace-Flood’s reporting is supported in part by a grant from Report for America.
Luke Melonakos-Harrison
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Bottom line.This is a push out of the tenants who live here now.So they can fix the place up and bring in tenants who will pay the New Rents.

Having a union is the only way to win the concessions you deserve. Congratulations on your efforts. It is inspiring to hear your story.

It is outrageous what this company is trying to do, but they know that capitalism is going down and they want to get more than the next guy so they are going after you.

This is not a "they don't care about me issue". This is pure capitalism…profit or leave. Don't confuse the two. This is not personal and "you' are not the issue. They are fighting for all the money they can get, even if it's immoral or illegal. This is not new. Fear works and they know it.
They will try to divide and conquer by talking to some tenants individually and giving them a deal so that others in your group will ostracize that union member.

Don't fall for this tactic. It is not new – divide and conquer is the name of the game here.
The fact is that this is happening all over the country. But, if you organize you can win BIG!

Stick together and stay strong because you have more power than you realize and they know they are outnumbered.

Become knowledgeable about the laws that protect you and make sure management abides by them.

They are going to try to inflict as much pain on you as they can. But, if you stay together, they can't hurt you.

Any chance you can sue THEM? Landlords are not LORDS or KINGS. They can't do whatever they want. Many CT laws are in our favor and you should thoroughly immerse yourselves in what your rights are.

#1 – They do not have the inherent right to screw you! Understand that. They cannot put fear into you so you'll pay – if you organize and stay together you win.

They use fear to pressure people into paying more money for nothing but profits for them.

Stick together. Share your experiences with each other and the press so you don't feel alone because you aren't.

Divide and conquer is what they are either doing or will do…then they will take their pile of money and go on to the next complex.

THREEFIFTHS and unionYES are correct, the owners/landlords of area apartment buildings are looking at the on campus housing crunch due to not enough on campus housing being built, and fewer number of roommates per dorm room, and most likely the growing number of students of Yale, Quinnipiac, UNH, Albertus Magnus, Southern and other area colleges and seeing dollars signs.
Plus the 10,000+ Covid related newcomers to our state, which realtors are saying that their friends from the states they left behind are liking what they can get for their money when they visit their Covid refugee friends, and are deciding to join them in living in our state, so a second wave of newcomers are moving here.
Add in the new Neuroscience hospital being built, the biotech industry growing here, and the pandemic related trend of working from home being embraced by employers of high paying jobs, and there are lots of renters and buyers being drawn to our area like never before.
The local lower income essential and front line workers, who mostly live paycheck to paycheck, can not afford these rent increases, many have less than perfect credit, and are far less attractive renters to landlords who can charge more per person for student rentals, and can do cheap renovations with white and grey makeovers, and then charge a lot more to the higher wage workers.
The ripples of gentrification will push outwards to Hamden, West Haven, East Haven, and beyond, already many lower income renters have fled to Meriden and Waterbury, but even Waterbury has seen prices increase with the demand from out of staters and locals.
How many communities are left that have available rents that match the needs of lower income front line and essential workers in our state? How far will they have to commute to work in these areas they have been priced out of? How hard will it be for employers to find workers who will be able to or willing to commute that far from where they can afford to live?

How many members does the Fair Rent Commission have? Are no more than 2/3's of them members of the same political party?
Joining a tenants' union can forstall eviction for six months, but beyond that time, a landlord may evict for no reason at all. Tenants have no right to lease renewals, and should always be prepared to leave at the end of a lease term.
Tenants may form a union, but landlords have no legal obligation to negotiate with a tenants' union.
Overall, it seems the complex is pretty rundown, and the rents reflect it. Evicting the present tenants would allow the landlord to renovate and charge more. With mortgage rates hitting 6%, ever more folks will be stuck renting rather than buying.

I appreciate the inclusion of the landlord's Orwellian "you will be fined if you approach our staff" sign. Seems very indicative of how they do business — as if the tenants are their feudal subjects. I think that Seramonte may have taken the "lord" part of the word "landlord" a bit too literally.

When did it become a crime to renovate and get more rent for YOUR property???
Tenants don't have to stay or agree to pay the amount. They can leave any time!

I find it hard to believe this landlord will find anyone willing to pay $3000 a month for the pleasure of living on Mix Avenue. That could be a mortgage payment on a good size house in a much nicer part of town.

You hit the nail on the head– the goal of a tenant union is to beat the landlords out of rent and keep people in the apt for as long as possible without paying.
How noble renters are!! Communism is coming– when they take away the property and distribute it to the new masters; you will see what you have wished for, renters

"the goal of a tenant union is to beat the landlords out of rent and keep people in the apt for as long as possible… Communism is coming"

Hell yeah brother, don't threaten me with a good time!!

All power to the tenants union!
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