About 15 tenants in a 101-unit rent controlled building in Columbia Heights are launching a rent strike this month after their requests for repairs and pest extermination have gone unanswered.
Maresa Hernandez, a 22-year-old tenant who lives in a studio apartment with her two parents and sibling, says the Urban Investment Partners-owned building is infested with mice, roaches, and bed bugs. She says several units and common areas are leaking and have mold in the walls. Many units also have rotten floorboards, she says.
“They’ve seen and walked into the units, but they just choose not to repair them,” Hernandez says. “Or the repairs aren’t done properly to our satisfaction.”
Hernandez is one of the tenants organizing the rent strike and has been working with Stomp Out Slumlords, the housing advocacy arm of the Democratic Socialists of America, to garner support. She testified during a D.C. Council committee hearing on a rent control bill last month. The bill would extend the current rent control law in D.C. for another 10 years. Landlords of rent controlled units in D.C. can only raise rent once a year, and the rent can only increase by two percent plus the inflation rate.
Hernandez says she has lived in the building her whole life and pays $800 a month. She estimates that monthly rent for similar units could run up to $1,200.
Mariel Mendez, an organizer with Stomp Out Slumlords, has talked to tenants who say the heating system in their apartments doesn’t work, and who purchased portable heaters to stay warm during the winter.
“We think this is UIP’s business model: neglecting buildings with working class people, so they get frustrated and move out so they can make it market rate and bring in usually wealthier and whiter tenants,” Mendez says.
City Paper reported in 2012 about UIP’s insatiable appetite for buying up rent controlled buildings. In the decade prior, UIP had purchased 3,000 units across 50 properties.
UIP principal Steve Schwat did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Hernandez and her fellow tenants have planned a rally in support of their rent strike for today at 6 p.m. outside their building at 3435 Holmead Place NW.
“We’ve talked with managers and supervisors, and they know. We’ve given them our demands. They know what’s going on. They know what we’re planning. They shouldn’t be surprised,” Hernandez says. “At this point we feel like this is the only option we have to act and meet our demands.”