Taking on a crooked landlord

May 12, 2010

SEATTLE--Thirty community members and Seattle Solidarity Network activists walked into the Nelson Development office in Lake City on May 7 to present property manager Lisza Darling with a letter.

The letter read in part:

It has come to our attention that a former tenant of yours, [Carmen], has received bills from your company demanding a total of approximately $1,500. We do not consider the reasons listed for these charges to be legitimate.

Furthermore, you have chosen to wrongfully withhold [Carmen's] deposit of $500. As the person claiming these illegitimate charges and withholding her deposit, it is your responsibility to resolve this problem by:

1. Acknowledging in writing that [Carmen] does not in fact owe this money.

2. Returning [Carmen's] deposit of $500.

Since Carmen moved out of her West Seattle apartment more than a month ago, Carmen has been struggling to resolve outstanding issues with Nelson Development and landlord Lisza Darling.

Carmen's decision to move was the only recourse that remained to address dangerous levels of mold she and her family had been living with for the past three years. This mold caused her and her family various illnesses, including respiratory and eye problems.

During these years, Carmen repeatedly asked Darling to remove the mold, but was generally ignored or told to simply "get some bleach." But every time Carmen would clean, the black mold and mildew would reappear within days. She even contacted city officials, who confirmed that the landlord was in violation, but told her that there was nothing they could do.

Tired of living under these conditions, she gave 15 days notice and moved out on March 31. But two weeks after moving out, Carmen received a bill for nearly $1,500. Nelson Development claimed that she owed them for April's rent ($800) plus $697.75 in utility charges she had never seen before.

This bill comes on top of nearly $2,000 Carmen and her family have had to spend on moving expenses and replacing furniture and clothing ruined by long-term exposure to the mold.

Carmen tried to amicably resolve the situation by attempting to set up meetings with Nelson Development and bilingual family members or friends. These attempts were met with open hostility and thinly veiled racism, including a suggestion that Carmen "should learn English." Carmen finally decided to seek help and turned to the Seattle Solidarity Network.

The Seattle Solidarity Network, also known as SeaSol, was founded in late 2007 by members of the Industrial Workers of the World and describes itself as "a mutual support group that fights against injustices caused by employers or landlords--such as stolen deposits, unpaid wages, unfair rent increases or racial discrimination--[by] using collective direct action."

SeaSol has joined Carmen in demanding that Nelson Development return her deposit and stop harassing her with unwarranted bills.

After the group of 30 SeaSol activists left a startled Darling behind in her office, supporters gathered outside to relish the sense of empowerment we felt in standing up to a crooked landlord and pledge continued support and further action until Carmen's demands are met.

As the letter presented to Lisza Darling states, "We hope and expect that the actions requested will be done soon and within no more than two weeks. Otherwise, we will take further action."

For more information about SeaSol, go to the Seattle Solidarity Network Web site.

Carley Phelan contributed to this article.

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