Week of Action at Rent Court!

Right to Housing Alliance members will be gathering on the steps of District Court on Friday, June 28th at 10am to read statements about their treatment by property manager Sage Management. Other Right to Housing Alliance members will be talking about their challenges in trying to get justice in rent court, and others including homeowners will share stories about their personal experience within our current economic and legal system that favors the protection of private property over justice for real people. Join them in standing up for their human right to safe, habitable, affordable housing and their demand that rent court is transformed from a debt collection service to a place where all can receive justice. Read on for background on this week’s activities…

In the past few weeks we’ve seen some successes in rent court, but we’ve also seen examples of the challenges tenants face when trying to get justice. Thousands of tenants appear in rent court every month, most for non-payment of rent, and the cases are typically very simple – if the tenant didn’t pay the rent, it’s a slam dunk for the landlord. The problem, however, is that in Baltimore City many tenants live in substandard conditions. As Deborah Weimer of University of Maryland’s Francis King Carey School of Law points out in a recent opinion piece in the Baltimore Sun, it’s extremely difficult for tenants to get property managers to remedy safety and habitability issues, while it’s disturbingly easy for landlords to collect money from these same tenants. Security of tenure – the ability to live in a place without fear of eviction – is a key element of the human right to adequate housing, and one that is violated daily in Baltimore City District Court.

Today RTHA members Henry and Sharon Bell, have a second escrow hearing and Jason & Keischa Rodriguez have a non-payment hearing on the heels of a denied escrow request. On Thursday, June 27th Tressy Shavers has her second escrow hearing, and on Friday Sage Management–a property manager with whom many of our members have very serious conditions issues coupled with overcharging rent and predatory fees–is bringing many of our members to court for non-payment of rent. Join these tenants by showing up and supporting them in the courtroom for their hearings.

See calendar for dates and times of this week’s hearings.

Sage Management

Every month, many property managers around the city file non-payment complaints in District Court. Sage Management is no different, filing 150-200 complaints each month against their tenants. On their website they are proud to boast that “Our company strives to tackle maintenance issues as quickly and as professionally as possible, always considering the tenants needs, safety and privacy.” Yet, some of our members have been waiting for months to have even severe safety issues remedied.

Despite the fact that they are in fact very slow to respond to such issues, they are very quick to collect their rent each month. Filing complaints for non-payment, and counting on no-shows due to the inconvenience for tenants of having to appear for a court hearing downtown in the middle of the day they receive default judgements, placing the burden of extra court fees and questionable and predatory “agent” fees on tenants already struggling with affordability. When asked by tenants and even attorneys to clarify questions about fees, the management are unable to produce an explanation for them. But that doesn’t stop the charges from coming each month.

Also on their website, they paint the image of themselves as a big happy family, saying “Sage management is not just a management company but a family. Come see any of our properties today and see for yourself what all the hype is about and join our family.” Click here for the list of addresses of the families that Sage Management are taking to court on Friday.

2013-06-23 16.09.33Detrese Dowridge (2871 Edgecombe Cir N)) stood up for herself in court last month and had hers and several other cases dismissed. Within a week Sage had issued her an eviction notice for a balance due from months ago.

 

2013-06-23 16.03.38Andrea Jones (2861 Edgecombe Cir N) was illegally padlocked from her apartment by Sage Management. Darlene Carter (2740 Virginia Ave) went to the Sage office to dispute a charge. When she showed them receipts and their own rent ledger proving payment, the property manager responded by saying “That doesn’t mean anything.”

 

2013-06-23 16.02.07Whitney Green (2871 Edgecombe Cir N) received a notice from Sage that he had not paid rent for June of 2013. When he produced a receipt they said they had made a mistake and he actually owed for May of 2011. When he also produced that receipt they said it was for June 2011. Unable to provide proof that he owes payment, they are continuing to take him to court.

Here’s what some other tenants have to say about their experience living in Sage Management properties.

Barbara White, 4210 Fairfax Rd

“1. No fire extinguisher in hallway, 2. Large hole in wall between laundry room and Apt 2, 3. My bathroom had caved in and they “fixed it” and now there is mold growing, 4. My bathroom floor behind the toilet needs fixing and I have duck tape holding my floor so I can open my bathroom door.”

Levelle Samuels, 1907 N. Forest Park

“For 4 months I’ve had mold, flies, ants, and snails. I do not have to go to court but I’d like to be there for the people going through the same thing.”

Shana Johnson, 2756 Virginia Ave

“Furnace/AC unit not working properly, 2nd floor wiring to one breaker overloading. This break is the breaker for the 2nd floor and is a fire hazard. Front bedroom door defective, need to repair hole and re-paint.”

Yvonne Fisher-Booker, 3921 Maine Ave

“Mold growing in bathroom around tub. Central air not working – told that units were too old to repair. Waiting for bathroom faucet to be repaired for over two weeks. Maintenance came in and cut down hot water pressure but NO REPAIR!!! Washroom was removed from basement about 2 or 3 years ago and the whole building smells like mold. STILL NO WASH ROOM.”

Join these tenants and others on the steps of the courthouse Friday, June 28th at 10am to support their human right to housing! For more information or to get involved please email contact@rthabaltimore, or call 443.863.9607.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RTHA at Left Forum 2013

Want to talk about building social movements with transformative demands? Want to talk about how to do this around the issue of housing? Join Right to Housing Alliance for a panel on that very topic at this year’s Left Forum! 

Right to Housing Alliance is honored to be invited to help kick off Left Forum 2013 in June! Organizer Jessica Lewis will be on a panel titled “Social Movements and Left Transformative Organizing” at this year’s conference.

Take Back the Land will be making an important announcement regarding the housing movement, and organizers and activists from all over the country will be invited to participate in a roundtable to discuss how to build a movement that truly challenges the commodification of housing and shifts the power from profit to people, thinking beyond saving individual houses, to unite homeowners with tenants, homeless, and all who have been struggling with lack of affordable housing and substandard conditions since long before the foreclosure crisis hit. 

In order to build a movement from the ground up, tenants, homeowners and homeless need to have a seat at the table. We are hoping to bring several RTHA tenant members along with us to Left Forum so they can have an opportunity to participate in this important conversation. In order to do so, we need your help! Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to our WePay account. We can’t get the residents at the table if we can’t get them through the door first.

We welcome all who are interested in furthering the discussion of building a truly transformative housing movement to join us to share, and learn from each other. We’re hoping to pack the room to start off the Left Forum weekend right!

Donate

Click here for panel information.

Panelist Bios:

Jessica Lewis is an organizer with the Right to Housing Alliance in Baltimore, working with residents facing foreclosure, eviction, and displacement. 

Chandra Bhatnagar is a Senior Staff Attorney with the Human Rights Program of the ACLU. His practice centers on the intersection of racial justice and immigration, with specific focus on the rights of low-wage workers.  Bhatnagar is counsel in David, et al. v. Signal International, LLC, et al., and EEOC v. Signal International, LLC, lawsuits on behalf of over 500 Indian men trafficked into the U.S. as guestworkers and subjected to abuse, involuntary servitude, and racial discrimination; Awad v. Ziriax, et al. a legal challenge to Oklahomas proposed constitutional amendment prohibiting Oklahoma judges from considering international law or Sharia law; and a petition filed in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on behalf of undocumented workers whose rights were violated in the wake of the Supreme Court decision in Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. NLRB. Columbia Law School.

Eric Mann, a veteran of the Congress of Racial Equality, Students for a Democratic Society, and the United Auto Workers, is the director of the Labor/Community Strategy Center in Los Angeles. He is the host of KPFK’s Voices from the Frontlines (Pacifica, Los Angeles) and the author of Playbook for Progressives: 16 Qualities of the Successful Organizer.

Max Rameau is a Haitian-born Pan-African theorist and organizer, living in Washington, DC. Max has organized in Miami, FL and DC around a range of issues, including immigrant rights, especially for Haitian immigrants, LGBTQ rights and police brutality, among others. Max helped found the land-based Take Back the Land in 2006, and in October of that year, the organization seized control of a vacant lot in the Liberty City section of Miami, and built the Umoja Village, a full urban shantytown. Since 2007, the group has been physically defending families from eviction and moving families into vacant foreclosed and government owned homes. In 2008, Max authored the book Take Back the Land, recounting the experiences and political theory behind the Umoja Village. The Take Back the Land- Movement currently includes affiliated organizations in a dozen US cities and has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, CNN, ABC World News Tonight, Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story and elsewhere.

Rob Robinson is a member of the Human Right to Housing Program at the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative. He co-founder of the Take Back the Land National Movement and a member of the US Human Rights Network. Rob spent two and a half years, homeless in Miami and ten months in a New York City homeless shelter. He eventually escaped his cycle of homelessness and has been in the housing movement in New York City since 2007. In the fall of 2009, Rob was New York Citye chairperson for the first ever official mission of a UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing. He was a member of an advance team coordinated by the US Human Rights Network in Geneva Switzerland to prepare for the United States initial appearance in the Universal Periodic Review, November 2010. Rob has worked with homeless populations in Budapest Hungary and Berlin Germany and is connected with housing movements in South Africa and Brazil. He also works with European Squatters Collective the International Alliance of Inhabitants and is on the Steering Committee of the USA Canada Alliance of Inhabitants. Rob is a member of the Board of Directors of Left Forum.

Click here for full conference schedule.

Click here to register for Left Forum.

 

More about Left Forum and this year’s conference theme:

Left Forum is the largest annual conference of the broad Left in the United States. Each spring thousands of conference participants come together to discuss pressing local, national and global issues; to better understand commonalities and differences, and alternatives to current predicaments; or to share ideas to help build social movements to transform the world.

This year’s conference theme is “Mobilizing for Ecological/Economic Transformation.”

We need to mobilize now! The planet and humankind are in peril. The climate is warming, glaciers are melting, seas are rising, droughts are spreading and species are going extinct, all caused by unsustainable development and overconsumption of every resource on the planet. Meanwhile the ongoing economic crisis the worst since the Great Depression has devastated working people around the world with astronomical rates of unemployment, falling incomes and  brutal austerity measures. Everywhere, the people least responsible for these interrelated crises are bearing their brunt, in particular people in developing countries, women who are the bulk of ecological refugees, and people of color. Bangladesh with its floods and factory fires is a tragic case in point. These twin crises reveal the destructive – indeed eco-suicidal – nature of capitalism’s inherent drive to growth, where everything in nature has a price, and nothing has a value, including human life.

At the same time, new forms of anti-capitalist and horizontal democratic resistance are emerging everywhere. There is reason to hope, as the basic question of who should own the Earth is coming to the fore. Come to this year’s Left Forum to explore the environmental and movement-building imperatives that make another world not only possible but necessary.

‘Occupy’ Turns to Housing: Op-Ed

This Op-Ed piece by members of Occupy Our Homes, the predecessor of Right to Housing Alliance, was published in the Baltimore Sun on June 12, 2012.

Click here to read the original piece.

Last year’s encampments are gone, but activists continue to work for economic justice in Baltimore

June 12, 2012 | By Jessica Lewis, Alex Bennett and Saba Nazeer

Those who rely on mainstream media to tell them what’s happening can be forgiven for coming to the same opinion as ex-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who wrote in his recent column “Capitalism on trial” (June 3) that the Occupy movement has disintegrated.

While aggressive law enforcement has prevented Occupy in many cities from re-establishing a prolonged and public presence, activists have put their energy to use by linking with community and neighborhood activists to fight the most visible footprint of the speculative 1 percent: foreclosed-upon homes.

Occupy Our Homes Baltimore, one of a number of local activist groups that has emerged from the Occupy Baltimore demonstration last October, is currently visiting the homes of families targeted for foreclosure in the Park Heights neighborhood of Baltimore. Community meetings thus far have brought those at risk of homelessness together with lawyers and organizers who are ready to assist, defend and join homeowners and tenants in fighting for their homes.

Similar Occupy Our Homes’ groups have formed around the country. In north Minneapolis, 50 Occupy members camped in and around the house of Monique White as she faced a foreclosure related eviction. Their tenacity and solidarity with neighbors resulted in the May renegotiation of Ms. White’s loan, including principal reduction.

Occupy Atlanta took up the cause of a 108 year old community church, the Higher Ground Empowerment Center, to fight off BB&T bank’s effort to foreclose after the church could not repay a 2008 loan used to repair tornado damage. Occupy’s camp-out on church property forced BB&T to re-negotiate, and the church was saved. The Atlanta Occupiers also saved a war veteran in Riverdale, Ga., whose home was targeted for foreclosure. While the group was unable to save an 85 year-old woman from eviction last month, they were able to publicize it by putting the woman’s personal property on the evicting sheriff’s lawn.

Occupy Nashville successfully defended Helen Bailey, a 78-year-old former civil rights activist from foreclosure by J.P. Morgan Chase, and Occupy Detroit and others waged an aggressive anti-eviction campaign that allowed a Detroit husband and wife to remain in their home of 22 years.

As Allison Kilkenny of The Nation wrote last month, “these kinds of Occupy victories used to receive a fair amount of news coverage, though never at the same level as the more dramatic aspects of the movement, such as violent camp evictions and mass arrests. However, as of late, the work done by Occupy Our Homes has almost entirely dropped off the media radar.”

This is a mystery to us. Since 2007, 8 million households have faced foreclosure. Ten million more are underwater. The recent $26 billion settlement by five major banks with state attorneys general contained limited relief for homeowners relative to the damage done by those who amassed fortunes by speculating on collateralized mortgage payments.

Of the $60 million in hard cash that Maryland will receive from the settlement, almost $20 million will fill the gaps in government, Legal Aid and Housing Counseling budgets, sustaining or providing employment to professionals who will “help” the victims of the predatory crisis. Many unemployed homeowners would like these jobs and would prefer employment to professional help. Occupy Our Homes, by the way, is staffed by volunteers.

In Baltimore, where 69,206 notices of intent to foreclose have been filed since April 2008, the Housing Authority is directing $9.5 million of the settlement money to demolish vacant housing. “This is so fortuitous,” an authority official crooned in The Sun, apparently oblivious to the 32,397 people waiting for housing on the authority’s own list, as well as the 4,088 people who are homeless in Baltimore on any given night. The fact that the authority wants to use millions to destroy housing rather than house people shows their preference for serving the private real estate market first, the poor second. Ostensibly, demolitions in blighted neighborhoods will increase property values for all in Baltimore, but chances are that the profits of a healthier real estate market will redound most favorably to private housing developers and speculators.

We occupied public space last year to reclaim and model the democracy we all deserve. We now knock on doors and meet in Park Heights to recognize that all of us, by virtue of our humanity, deserve housing. Both democracy and housing are embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document the United States endorsed when it joined the United Nations. And human rights are founded upon the interdependence of political and economic rights — in short, democracy, free speech and privacy are empty without education, health care, housing and jobs that pay fair wages for all.

Link to article in the Baltimore Sun.

Standing Up for Human Rights at Rent Court

Henry and Sharon Bell went to District Court on Friday to file for rent escrow due to conditions concerns in their home of nine years. The Bells had been withholding rent for the past two months until necessary repairs were made, and were taken to court by their landlord in early May for failure to pay rent.

On Friday, May 24th, Right to Housing Alliance organizers, resident members, and other supporters accompanied the Bells to their escrow hearing for the simple purpose of showing that tenants are no longer standing alone. Their demands were the creation of a rent escrow account, rent abatement, and damages. When the Bells’ case was called, all present stood and remained standing until ordered by the judge to be seated. That simple act was enough to reassure the Bells, and to show the other tenants in the courtroom that they, too, deserve safe, adequate housing with dignity.

The owner of the Bells’ home, Corey Martin, did not appear for the hearing, sending instead a representative of  Duane-Calhoun Properties, whom the Bells had never heard of and who had never visited the home. During the hearing, the judge heard testimony from the City housing inspector on the more than 30 violations she found upon inspection of the Bells’ home. While having the option of granting the escrow on the spot, the judge opted to give the landlord even more time, 30 more days, to make all necessary repairs, dragging the Bells back to court again in June, and extending the possibility of further harassment from the owner. When pressed to hear Henry Bell’s testimony, which is permissible in escrow hearings, she refused, citing the fact that the owner was not present. Such generosity is rarely granted to tenants if they don’t show up to court.

The real success was the work the Bells did to reach out to other tenants at rent court, sharing their public letter, and reaching out to other residents to let them know that if we work together we can demand that our human rights are respected and valued. A Tenant Advocate of our legal partners at the Public Justice Center says he has never seen so many people in rent court to support a tenant in his 17 years there.

Ultimately, an escrow account was created for the amount of one month’s rent (as they had been withholding rent for two months, this essentially forgives them one month of rent), but the damages and rent abatement will have to wait until the next hearing in June. And we will be there.

 

The Problems are Too Big to Fight Alone

Henry and Sharon Bell were taken to court last week by their landlord. They had been withholding rent due to conditions concerns in the house they have been renting for nine years. This Friday, May 24th, they take their landlord to court to file for escrow. Right to Housing Alliance members will join them there, where they will share the following letter with other tenants attending rent court in order to spread the message that they are not alone. Thousands of residents visiting district court each month face the same conditions concerns and are rarely heard by a judge. Henry and Sharon think that should change.

A Letter from Henry and Sharon Bell

5/13/13

My name is Henry Bell. My wife’s name is Sharon Bell. We have five children. We live at 2857 W. Cold Spring Lane. We have lived here for nine years as of March, 2013. I work for the State of Maryland for thirty-four years. I am a veteran. Today we had to go to rent court, our landlord took us to court because we withheld the rent for the months of April and May. He refused to make repairs on the house. The work that needs to be done is overwhelming. This landlord continues to make threats of eviction if we don’t pay rent. These threats have caused a lot of stress on me and my family, not knowing if we are going to get evicted or not. He wants to collect his rent every month and not make repairs.

We came to the Right to Housing Alliance meetings to find out our rights as a tenant. We found out that other people are going through the same stressful situations that we have encountered. The Right to Housing Alliance has enhanced our knowledge as renters. The Right to Housing Alliance brought tenants together to unite because the problems are too big to fight alone.

We are standing up for our rights in court for ourselves and others because the system needs to change to ensure the human right to safe and adequate housing.

For Human Rights,

Henry and Sharon Bell