Rafael Bautista (left, red cap) leading Village Apartments tenants and activists on a march, September 29
As many as 50 tenants at the Village Apartments complex in Linda Vista are threatening a "rent strike" beginning next week if their demands for more modest rent increases and completion of repairs affecting the habitability of their units aren't addressed.
"We've engaged with them several times," says Rafael Bautista of San Diego Tenants United. "We've asked for a fair contract and they've said they would provide one but they have yet to do so. We're left trying to figure out what's happening."
It's been a long battle — tenants have been complaining about conditions at the complex for over a year. In that time, management has replaced old wood-framed windows with modern vinyl and applied a fresh coat of paint to the building exteriors, but Bautista says significant habitability issues remain on the inside. He flips through a slide show of photos on his phone highlighting water damage and walls coated with black mold; he says all the photos were provided to him recently.
"All they did was paint over it," Bautista says. "This is what we're talking about — it's pervasive."
Still, tenants with expiring leases have been notified of pending rent hikes of as much as 15 percent. State law requires landlords to provide a 60-day notice to tenants of any intended rent hikes in excess of 10 percent, which the group says have been properly delivered. Still, they say resistance is imminent.
"We say [the rent increases] are unfair. We talk about how neglectful maintenance is; we try to itemize the issues and once we've laid them out it becomes difficult to justify a rent increase," Bautista continues. "They're trying to pass on the improvement costs — but those should be built into their maintenance budget.
"Our goal is to get new contracts. At Tenants United we're pushing for rent control with a maximum of 2 percent rent increases per year."
On Friday afternoon (September 29), tenants gathered in a complex courtyard to rally and begin a march to the management office to vocalize that objective.
Shouting bilingual chants of "Control de renta, a dos por ciento!" ("rent control at 2 percent") and "If there's a rent hike, there's a rent strike," the group arrived at the office a half-hour before the scheduled closing time to find the door locked and the shades drawn.
"They've closed the offices all week," Bautista says. "It's not like they've posted any notice explaining why they're not there."
Of the tenants poised to withhold rent, he says all have received legal advice and have legitimate habitability complaints. California law allows tenants to withhold rent from landlords who fail to address significant health and safety issues — but not if they disagree with the rate a property owner elects to charge.
"They're not withholding rent because they don't want to pay; the tenants here feel like their backs are against the wall and they don't have any other options," Bautista explains. His group will try to contact management again on Tuesday afternoon to resolve the situation.