- Tenant Organizing When Rising Rent Isn’t the (Main) Issue
Difficulties with code inspections are familiar to Omaha tenant organizers. An organizer with Omaha Tenants United (OTU) who asked to be referred to as Simon for fear of reprisal from Omaha landlords, says, “if an inspector were to come into most of the buildings that we’re going into, and they were actually doing their job according to the law, [the buildings] would just be condemned.” Early in 2019 Simon told a local radio station, “Omaha has a big problem with slumlords taking advantage of people in affordable housing. Slumlords offer cheap properties but oftentimes they use that for an excuse to not provide adequate services for their tenants or take advantage of them.” Simon cautioned that “slumlord is more of a rhetorical device. We always try to just say ‘landlords’ wherever possible, to highlight that even the ‘good landlords’ are still exploiting.”
There’s strong potential for tenant organizing in areas where conditions are really bad, says Simon. “You have agitation points kind of ready-made for you.” OTU has successfully supported tenants of Dave Paladino, whom Simon referred to as “the biggest slumlord in Omaha,” whose buildings are in disrepair and who has been accused of confiscating tenants’ security deposits and fabricating exorbitant fees. In one case, OTU was able to eliminate $1,045 in fees and get $500 of a disabled Black tenant’s $550 deposit returned by bringing dozens of supporters to a negotiation the tenant had scheduled with management after voluntarily vacating a unit the tenant considered uninhabitable.
- ‘There’s More Of Us Than Landlords’: Tenant Organizing In The Trump Era
OTU helps people moving out by making small repairs and touch-ups, as well as taking photographs as proof in case landlords try to tack-on unnecessary move-out fees. “We have our own counter-proof to at least reduce the fees or get them waived entirely,” the OTU co-founder declared. A local landlord with hundreds of low-rent properties to his name and described by the OTU co-founder as “one of the biggest slumlords in Omaha,” attempted to charge a tenant $1,500 in move-out fees. OTU took action on behalf of the tenant.
“We occupied his office with about 30 people. When we got down to negotiating, we demonstrated how these fees were recently made-up. It certainly wouldn’t win in court, and we don’t want to go to court either. We were able to waive all the fees and get his $500 deposit back,” the OTU co-founder stated.
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